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Multiple sclerosis patient faces uphill battle

By Bahaa Al Deen Al Nawas - Aug 14,2019 - Last updated at Aug 14,2019

AMMAN — Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a medical condition not very well known in Jordan.

“It started in December of 2013. I was fine, working in the Public Security Department, physically healthy, and then it happened all of a sudden, I lost control over my whole body and fell down at home before leaving for work, paralysed and unconscious.”

These are the words a 35-year-old man who is battling MS and preferred to use the name Tamer for this article. He shared his story with The Jordan Times last Thursday. 

After becoming paralysed, Tamer went to hospital and underwent some tests. He was told that it was “nothing, probably just work stress”. 

However, it did not stop; sometimes his hand would go paralysed, or his leg, or again his body would stop responding and he would need to sit down for a while before being able to move again. 

Tamer went to another medical centre, and around six months passed with doctors unable to diagnose the cause of the paralysis, until one day after running an MRI scan, a dark spot was “clearly visible” in the brain, and doctors were able to diagnose him with MS. 

The symptoms of MS patients vary: Some target the eyes, some affect the legs while in some cases, patients lose control of their whole bodies.

Tamer has been able to battle the condition so far and can still walk and talk when the MS is dormant. 

“I have three children, two boys and a girl. I am responsible for my family,” Tamer said.

“The department had to give me an ill-health pension, which is not much, I can barely afford rent, bills, home necessities and, of course, there is no room for leisure or fun, only responsibility, it feels like being dead in life,” he continued, adding that if it were not for his family, he would not have made it this far. 

When Tamer was diagnosed, there were not many other people diagnosed with MS. Even though there is a better understanding of it now, there is still “no final cure”, Tamer said.

“They give me injections called Rebif, which mitigate the effects of relapsing MS,” he added.

“Some people take 12 of those injections a month, some take one a week, some take pills, some take other kinds. It depends on what responds and works for the patient,” Tamer said. 

“I have to do an MRI scan every two years to know how far MS has gained control over my body, and the last time I went this April, one of the MRI specialists said that more patients with MS have been showing up and there are lectures and workshops to raise awareness of it now, unlike a few years back when it was a mysterious and vague disease,”  Tamer said.

The Jordan Times contacted Munir Aldahiyat, consultant neurologist in the private sector and former consultant of the Royal Medical Services. The expert said that the condition happens when an error affects the immune system and causes the white blood cells or T-cells to attack the body, which affects the Myelin, a substance formed in the central nervous system, and this is what causes the "attacks". 

The diagnosis is difficult because the symptoms are similar to many other neurological problems, according to Aldahiyat.

"When Myelin is affected, the electricity in the brain is affected as well, and depending on the area of the brain, the patient's sight could worsen, or their limbs could become heavy, but 25 per cent of the cases have sight problems and blurriness because of the attacks," Aldahiyat said. 

The medicine prescribed lowers the immune system's power, or the power of T-cells that attack the body, and includes cortisone and interferon, which reduce the attacks by 30 up to 70 per cent, the expert said, noting that Rebif is one of those medicines. 

The medicine is administered to ensure the patient does not suffer from permanent damage because of the "attacks", he added.

"Multiple sclerosis is more common in colder areas like northern Europe and Scandinavian countries, and the more we go to the south, to hotter areas, the less the cases are," he said.

“Generally speaking, more MS cases in Jordan are being discovered, and the main cause is still unidentified but studies refer to a change in the environment being the main cause, although the change itself is unknown as well,” the expert said. 

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