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International MS treatment allows Ga. woman to dance at son's wedding

A South Georgia woman's battle against her incurable, debilitating disease sent her to the other side of the globe looking for a cure. Saturday, her journey culminated as she danced at her son's wedding.

In 1991, Judi Bremer was teaching English at a local high school. When returning from a trip to a Florida theme park, Bremer experienced numbness in her right leg. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis about a month later.

An unpredictable, often disabling disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) affects the central nervous system by disrupting the flow of information within the brain and the body.

She eventually recovered from her first battle with the disease and had a healthy 19 years with no other issues from MS.

Over those years, Bremer taught high school, then technical college classes full-time, took and taught dance, followed her children through their activities and worked out three to four times a week at a local gym.

“Then in 2010, MS returned to my life with a vengeance and began to cause mobility issues, leading me to use a cane and then a rollator,” she said. “When I was first diagnosed, there were no medications to halt or delay the progression of MS.”

She had relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, which usually consists of periods of remission interspersed with periods of relapses. It usually progresses to secondary progressive multiple sclerosis after about 10 to 20 years.

Secondary progressive multiple sclerosis usually causes the gradual or rapid progression of MS symptoms.

“That is what happened to me,” she explained. “My husband and I no longer danced. My teaching career was cut short because symptoms made teaching difficult. Our ability to travel was impeded. Many things I would enjoy doing with our grandchildren had become impossible. MS has changed our lives.”

Hope for Bremer’s condition came from a rather unlikely source, however, in 2014.

“I could not accept the fact that there was no hope except to continue to decline, from cane to rollator to not dancing to not teaching, so I began searching. It is embarrassing to say I learned about Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant, HSCT, from Facebook. As an English teacher, I would not have allowed students to do research on Facebook,” Bremer said with a laugh.

In the United States, Bremer did not fit the criteria for treatment in either of the clinical trials for HSCT. She began communicating with doctors in other countries regarding the possibility of being accepted for treatment. In March of 2014, she was accepted by Dr. Shimon Slavin in Tel Aviv and by Dr. Denis Fedorenko in Moscow.

“After much prayer, I felt led by God to go to Russia to have this procedure done,” she said.

Bremer started treatment in June of 2014. She was given a series of injections for four days to stimulate the stem cells to move from the bone marrow to the blood stream before she was attached to a machine which extracted the blood, separated the stem cells to store them and put the other blood back into her blood stream. The blood was then cleansed of the T and B cells, which caused the MS, and was then frozen. After four days of chemotherapy to suppress the immune system, the stem cells were re-infused into Bremer’s body.

After treatment, she went through an expected phase where symptoms worsened. “Even experiencing some pain and lack of mobility did not change my attitude toward HSCT, nor did it make me regret my decision to pursue this treatment in Russia. For the first time in four years, I had hope,” she said.

While the treatment does not work for all MS sufferers, Bremer said for her it has. In the years since her HSCT treatment, she is, through intense physical therapy, now walking with the assistance of a cane.

On Saturday, Bremer’s son was married and she and her husband danced at the wedding — just as they had before MS made it impossible.

Murphy writes for the Thomasville, Georgia Times-Enterprise.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by PAULSVALLEYDAILYDEMOCRAT
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