Category Archives: Multiple Sclerosis News Columns

If My MRI is Stable, Why is My Walking Getting Worse?

During a routine exam with my neurologist recently, I asked her a question I’d never thought to ask before: “Why do you order regular MRIs of my brain, but not of my spine?”

Interestingly, within a few days of my exam, a Harvard Med School study was released that addressed a similar question: Is there always a link between the level of physical disability in some MS patients and the amount of lesions in the brain?

What my doctor said

My neurologist’s answer was pretty simple. Disease progression in parts of the body that are controlled by nerves along the spinal cord, such as the legs, is usually noticed by a patient physically before the progression can be seen on a spinal MRI. On the other hand, MS disease progression can be spotted on an MRI of the brain before it’s noticed physically. So, by regularly doing brain scans, a neurologist may be able to halt that progression by changing DMDs, for example, before it has a chance to have a physical impact. Doing a spinal scan doesn’t present the same opportunity.

The Harvard Med School study

Details of the Harvard Medical School study are reported in an article written for Multiple Sclerosis News Today. The conclusion of this study is that, for some MS patients, there may be no connection between the number and size of the lesions that can be seen on an MRI of the brain and that patient’s level of physical disability.

The research found that a little over 13 percent of the patients who were studied had this “dissociation” between what the scan revealed and their disability level. Some had only a few brain lesions but lots of disability. Others had a lot of brain lesions but relatively little physical disability.

According to the researchers, patients in the low brain lesion but high disability group were prone to having a progressive form of MS, more cervical spinal cord lesions, and a lower physical quality of life. The study’s authors believe this may be due to their lesions being concentrated in the spinal cord rather than in the brain, and that’s pretty much what my neuro told me about my MS.

What about MS patients with the opposite — when their MRIs show a lot of brain lesions but they exhibit few physical symptoms? The Harvard researchers suspect these patients may be likely to have cognitive problems.

Bottom line

For the study: The researchers believe that this disparity between observable symptoms and MRI results complicates a neurologist’s ability to determine a prognosis for MRI patients.

For me: The study results, combined with what my neurologist told me the other day, explain why being told for many years that “the MRI looks great” was only half of my MS story.

(This post first appeared as my column on www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)

The Ogo: 21st Century Wheels for Your MS, but with a Hefty Price Tag

About a year ago, I first wrote about something called an Ogo. It was just in the development phase then, but it was the neatest thing I’d ever seen for getting around when your legs can’t do the job. You don’t need to use your arms, either. Just bend in the direction that you want to travel, like riding on a Segway, and off you go. It could be great for someone with MS.

The Ogo is the brainchild of Kevin Halsall and Marcus Thompson. Kevin is a product design engineer and Marcus is a paraplegic. Several years ago, Kevin began trying to develop a device that would increase Marcus’ mobility. With help from Marcus, a prototype was produced. Three major design changes followed.

The Ogo is ready to roll

Now, after a lot of tweaking, the Ogo production line is ready to roll late this summer. The Ogo looks great. It seems as if it could be really useful to any of us who use a scooter to get around, and it sure looks like a whole lot of fun. But it comes with a hefty price tag of just under $17,000. (And that’s without including the cost of shipping from New Zealand, customs fees and, possibly, import tariffs and sales taxes.)

I haven’t tried it myself, and I’m not getting anything from the Ogo folks for writing about their device, but I do want to show it to you.

Take a look:

Here are some specs for the Ogo:

  • Length with footrest up: 770 mm / 30.3 inches
  • Height with backrest on: 1 m / 39.4 inches
  • Height with backrest off: 610 mm / 24 inches
  • Width: 630 mm / 25.2 inches. All terrain kit: 830 mm / 32.7 inches
  • Battery x 2: Lithium Ion
  • Battery x 2 weight: 11kg / 24 lbs
  • Travel distance: Up to 38 km / 24.8 miles on a single charge.
  • Weight: 65 kg / 143 lbs
  • Speed: 20 kph / 12 mph

If your MS means you need to use a mobility scooter, you think the Ogo is for you and you have $17,000+ that you can spare, ordering information is on their website.

(A version of this post first appeared as my column on http://www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)

My Lemtrada Journey: 6 month report

It’s been a little over six months since I completed Round 1 of my Lemtrada infusions, so it’s time again to ask myself, “How am I doing?”

The answer: I’m not sure.

For many years, my brain MRI has remained unchanged. I can’t remember the last time I had an exacerbation (something bad enough to require steroid treatments). It was, literally, in the last century. But my walking has slowly, but steadily, declined.

So, I’m really not sure how much of an impact any of the disease-modifying drugs that I’ve been on since 1996, including Lemtrada, have had on my MS. I like to think that all of the shots, pills, and infusions that I’ve been treated with over the past two decades have, at least, slowed the progression of my disease, but it’s really hard to know for sure.

Enter Lemtrada

As you probably know, Lemtrada is designed to halt further progression of MS. In addition, some patients have had some symptoms reversed. But that benefit wasn’t expected, it just sort of appeared during the clinical trials. On the other hand, more than a few patients are reporting a variety of negative symptoms following their infusions.

My 6-month timeline

The first three months post-infusion were a real roller coaster. The lowest point on the ride was at about two months post-infusion, when I developed a fever, slight headache, and a cough. Naturally, my energy level also dropped. It was diagnosed as strep, and after downing antibiotics for about 10 days, I was much better.

Around the five-month point, my wife thought I was walking better. Today, just past six months, I think I am — sometimes, but not always. I also can flex my left foot up from the ankle just a little, and I think that’s new. Cramping in the insoles of my feet, which took place almost every night when I got into bed, has been significantly reduced. So, all positive stuff.

But, on the other side of the coin, I developed an aching pain in both hips around mid-February. At times, that pain would shoot down one or both legs when I put weight on them. It’s been worse in the mornings, particularly if I’m trying to get up from squatting down. But, is this drug-related, or is it something else? My neuro says it’s not related to the infusions. Some Lemtrada patients have suggested that it’s the feeling of my body “making new bone marrow.” I just don’t know.

This pain has slowly eased since it began four months ago. That improvement may be related to receiving physical therapy treatments in April and May and getting back into the swimming pool in June. That physical therapy and the swimming may also be responsible for the mobility improvements that I mentioned earlier. Or is it the Lemtrada? Or, maybe it’s a combination of both.

The six-month mark is the time at which, I’ve been told, the ups and downs tend to level out or to swing upward. That seems to be the case with me. So, I guess it really doesn’t matter whether it’s Lemtrada, or PT, or swimming that seems to be helping, or if it’s the drug or the natural course of my MS that’s responsible for my low points. I’ll continue doing what I’m doing and hope for the best.

(A version of this first appeared as my column on www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)

 

An MS “House” That Lets You Walk in My Shoes

Several months ago, I wrote about a bicycle that mimics the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Now, I’ve discovered that there’s an “MS House” that allows a healthy person to experience some of what life is like for someone who lives with MS.MS House sign

People walking through the MS House are able to see and feel things from a different, and often difficult, perspective. For a short while, as they walk through guided by headset audio, they can better understand what multiple sclerosis is all about.

The living room

Living room
(Photo by Andreea Antonovici)

A TV displaying half-definition pictures is used to illustrate vision problems. An armchair that’s set very low to the floor demonstrates the difficulty of getting up from a chair due to leg strength issues and fatigue. A sign explains that MS fatigue is like sitting down, and you’re so tired that you can’t get up again. An inflatable mattress is on the floor to simulate how someone with MS has difficulty balancing while walking and may be very wobbly.

The kitchen

A heavy coffee mug and an unbalanced tray are used to demonstrate fatigue symptoms.

The study room

Study room
(Photo by Andreea Antonovici)

A “jumbled” computer keyboard simulates how cognitive problems may make it difficult to find the correct word to use when typing. These problems are also illustrated by an “Alice in Wonderland” book where the same page is read over and over again because, by the end of the page, the reader has already forgotten what he read. Ankle weights appear under a sign that says “Don’t drag your feet,” and then describes how people with MS can feel as if they’re walking through sand.

The bathroom

An infrared heater and a blurry mirror are used to simulate how a hot shower or weather can flare MS symptoms.

On display

The MS House was created under the sponsorship of the European Multiple Sclerosis Platform. It was displayed to mark World MS Day at a meeting of the European Parliament in Brussels, May 30–June 1. It would be nice to find a way to put it on a worldwide tour to broaden everyone’s understanding of what those of us with MS experience in our lives.

My Lemtrada Journey: “Do You Think You’re Walking Better?”

“Do you think you’re walking better?”

The question came from my wife, Laura. It’s now about 4 1/2 months since my first round of Lemtrada infusions and I’ve had ups and downs physically. The day she asked, I was feeling pretty good. I also think I’ve been sharper mentally than in the past. Yet I wasn’t sure I’d noticed any improvement in my mobility.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “Maybe. It’s hard to tell.”

But she could tell. “Well, I think you’re walking better.”

Laura is a retired physical therapist, so she looks at my walking with a professional’s eye. My left foot drops and that leg drags. She thought the drop and drag were looking a bit better, and she told me to see if I could put my left heel down first when I walked.

I couldn’t do that but, in trying, I could see that my toes flexed upward, just a bit, rather than dragging. I could also lift my whole foot a fraction of an inch off the floor as I moved my left leg forward. So, yes, I seemed to be walking a bit better. Laura also noticed that I was standing straighter. Again, once she pointed it out, I could see she was right.

The next day I improved a bit more. Now, after getting rid of my usual morning stiffness, I find that, if I concentrate, I can lift my left foot high enough so that I can pretty much put my heel down first. And I’ve been able to do that for a couple of days now.

The last time I wrote about my Lemtrada journey was three months ago, and my roller coaster was spending more time in the dips than in the peaks. My fatigue was up and down. On several days it was tough to get out of bed. Other days I felt good when I woke up, but took a dive in mid-afternoon, and had to nap for a couple of hours. Many nights involved getting up for multiple “pee trips,” which didn’t help my energy level.

Then I developed a fever and dry cough, which was diagnosed as a strep infection. It took an antibiotic, and about two weeks of rest, to regain my energy. Since then I’ve been on a plateau, not feeling bad, but not experiencing the walking improvement that some Lemmies report. Not until Laura’s six words the other day: “Do you think you’re walking better?” And, I do.

Of course, not everything has been perfect. I’ve written about a pain that I developed several weeks ago in my hips and thighs, and it’s still with me. I’m getting some physical therapy to see if that will help. And I’m stiffer than I’ve ever been in the morning.

My first post-infusion MRI and an appointment with my neurologist are scheduled for mid-June. I can’t wait to see what the scan and her 25-foot walking test show. Stay tuned.

(This is an updated version of my column that first appeared on www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)

 

MS through the eyes of a “20-something” rapper

I’m an old guy and it’s been a looonnng time since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Not so for a young man named BJ Baker.

BJ is in his late 20s and he was having a very bad day the other day. He was too tired to do a (seemingly) simple cleaning job around the house. So, he vented in the way that other young MS patients would understand. BJ used to write wrap music, so he vented in rap poem. Here’s what he posted on the “We’re Not Drunk, We Have MS!” Facebook group. When you read this try to do it with a “rap” rhythm.

“As ur body weakens and muscles soften, starting a project and not finshing unfortunately happens often.
As you get older and age no worries thats to be expected, but when ur 27 that shit gets to be perplexin.
With M.S. its one thing after another as i try to not be a bother, as i go back in time thru my brother and see the future through my father.
no to camping trips, bonfires, outside parties being mean isnt my intention, its just the night blindness, numbness, lack of balance,  make me the center of attention.
First dates for closeness but not super pushin for a 2nd, i enjoyed ur company u were very pleasant.
Not trying to be a jerk dates are fun and thats for certain, but how do you jump into a relationship already feeling like a burden.
Sometimes i lay in the dark all day pretending not to hear my phone, i desperately want company but feel im supposed to be alone.
Laying here typing rhymes after being beaten by a chore has feelings  coming to the surface, the M.S. fog has me forgetting this poems purpose.
As ur body weakens and muscles soften, starting a project and not finishing unfortunately happens often.
As you get older and age thats to be expected but when ur 27 that shit gets to be perplexin.”

I’m not sure what to suggest to someone 40 years younger than me about what to do when “shit gets to be perplexin.” Fortunately, my MS progressed slowly and I was able to do what I needed to do, including working full-time, for many years after I was diagnosed at age 32.

It’s not a rap, but my philosophy is simple: Even a pair of deuces can be a winning hand if you play it right.

So, yo…

As I get older my act’s gotta get bolder. Alone would be perplexin’, I gotta do more flexin’. Not gonna make excuses. Not even for my deuces. My future is my makin’, no time for any fakin’. It really ain’t perplexin’.

****

(This post first appeared as my column on http://www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)

(Photo: Mathys Cresson)

 

 

 

 

Is it Time to Treat Your MS to a Scooter Ride?

To scoot or not to scoot? Is is better to drag your legs around for as long as you can or to give in and get yourself a set of electric wheels?

That decision prompted this vent on a multiple sclerosis Facebook group recently:

“I’m just wondering if anyone has this happen to them. Every time I go to the store I have someone roll up on me in their electric scooter and tell me I need to get one. Every time my response is the same “I refuse to use one until I absolutely have no other choice” and then they shake their head at me like I’m crazy. Granted I know how I look pushing my walker (which I refused to use for a long time and just clutched onto walls) and dragging my dead weight of a right leg behind me, red faced and sweating with the effort, but for now I am able to walk so I do, is that really such a bad thing?”

For many years I felt the same way as that writer. It took one tripping fall too many, however, to convince me to find some walking help. I began using a cane; first a fold-up, used only occasionally, then a nice looking wooden cane that I used all the time. That was in the late 1990s, close to twenty years after first being diagnosed with MS.

I started using a scooter in the summer of 2000, when a colleague suggested that I rent one to get around the large Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Philadelphia’s First Union Center (now the Wells Fargo Center), while covering the political conventions being held in those cities. Riding, rather than walking, gave me the mobility that I needed to do my job. I scooted whenever I was at those venues and at the the end of each long working day I parked, plugged the scooter into its charger and walked out of the convention center. Without using the scooter someone probably would have had to have carried me out.

Four years later, my wife convinced me to buy a scooter of my own. My Pride Sonic (now called a “Go-Go”) separated into 4 parts. The heaviest was about GoGo-Sport-3W-Red40 pounds so I could disassemble the scooter, throw it into the back of my SUV and take it to work with me. That gave me two benefits, I could move around our news bureau, which covered 3 large floors, faster than anyone else and I also saved a ton of personal energy.

That Sonic also came along on cruises to Alaska and the Mediterranean with my wife and I but, eventually, it became too heavy and cumbersome to travel with.  So, enter the TravelScoot. This is a 35 pound scooter that can be folded

Two scooters

With another cruise passenger in Dubrovnik

like a baby stroller. I can ride it right to an aircraft door where it’s stowed, folded in a coat closet or unfolded in the cargo bay, and it’s returned to me at the door when we arrive. I still use a larger scooter, now a Go-Go, around town and to walk our dog. (And when we go grocery shopping, my wife rides the Go-Go and I ride the TravelScoot). But the TravelScoot is, as the name suggests, primarily my travel scooter. It’s wheeled me around the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey and been “tendered” from a cruise ship onto the shore at Santorini, Greece. 

I’m not advocating for a particular brand of scooter. An on-line search will turn up dozens, at prices ranging from around $900 to $4,500 or so. And you’ll probably have to pay for it yourself. Unless your doctor will certify that you need an electric scooter to get around in your house it’s unlikely that Medicare, Medicaid or your insurance will pay for it in the U.S.

I am, however, advocating that you not allow pride, vanity or a strict “use it or lose it” philosophy to stand in the way of getting yourself some wheels. It really helped to make me more independent and it made a big difference in the qualify of my life.

—-

(This post first appeared as my column on http://www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)