Austin seeking a new life without MS
Published 6:01 am Thursday, October 8, 2015
At only 16-years-old, Buckingham resident Anita Austin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating disease where one’s immune system eats away at the covering of nerves.
Though her immune system has been tearing away at her body for years, her faith has grown to be stronger than ever and she wants to spread her strength to others who are suffering from the illness.
Twelve years later, at age 28, she’s still battling with fatigue and pain and struggling to complete day-to-day activities, which makes it hard for her to keep up with her energetic 3-year-old son, Jasiah.
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Through the support of her faith and family and a $250,000 Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell transplant procedure, Austin is seeking what she’s calling “a new life,” one without pain, agony and MS.
“I’m currently in a progressive relapse and remitting stage,” Austin said of her illness.
MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Austin is one of over 2.3 million people are affected by MS worldwide, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Scientists can’t figure out what causes the disabling disease.
Austin was in high school when she was diagnosed with MS. “I was shocked when I first found out,” she said. “It was something hard to learn to deal with at first being so young and not knowing a lot about this disease.”
Part of the the stem-cell transplant includes wiping out her immune system, Austin said. Stem cells that she created in her body are used to build a completely new immune system “that will not know I had MS in the past. So, it’s like a new start to life with a new immune system.”
To undergo the procedure, she traveled to Chicago, Ill., to Northwestern Medicine. The procedure was over three-months-long and was broken down into several weeks, Austin said. “The longest period away [was] in September when the transplant [was] actually be completed.”
Austin was hospitalized for over three weeks as part of the procedure.
The thought of the procedure scared her at first, she said. “Then, I realized that I am doing so much from having this done. Yes, I have to be away from my child for a long period, but in the end it’s going to be well-worth it. Not only will we have more time together, but I will have more energy to do the things that he wants to do.”
“It’s like a roller coaster that you go through,” Austin said of her recovery. She said she’s very tired and is going through lots of physical therapy. “You won’t see results right away. It could take some time as your body recovers.”
Her recovery phase could take up to six months, she said. “You can’t really be around a lot of people and you have to … build your energy back up. You’re pretty much in the bed for three weeks. You have to condition your body back up to have enough energy. …,” she said.
Once she gets her energy back, she said, she should “see some results.”
Her son, whom she hopes to make many more memories with in the years ahead of her, is one of her sources of inspiration.
“I prayed over this many, many nights,” Austin said. “I believe that God has put me in this position for a reason, and the outcome will be wonderful. I also find the strength to do this in my son. I have to be around him as he grows up — healthy and [with] at least half his energy. My family plays a big role in this also. They have been with me every step of the way.”
Over the years, Austin has learned to cope with MS very well.
“I’ve learned that you cannot let this take you over. You have to be a fighter.”
Austin says she knows a lot of people struggle with MS and some don’t know what to do about it. “There is help out there,” she said. “Once you get the courage and faith in you, nothing can change your mind.”
Her message to others who battle daily with the disease is simple. “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. Don’t let MS win.”
Austin has set up a website where she is accepting donations for her procedure: www.gofundme.com/w5mv5c.