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Health: Woman hopes stem cells help with ravages of MS

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

Since Milly Chrismer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she’s dealt with loss of movement and sight, and worst of all, her independence.

But that hasn’t stopped the 60-year-old Hagley resident from looking for ways to gain control of the disease.

“I’m afraid I’m going to be laying in bed and not be able to talk. I don’t want that,” she said.

Stem cell transplants, she discovered, have been able to repair some of the nerve damage secondary multiple sclerosis causes, but many doctors in the United States aren’t interested in performing the procedure.

“Milly’s doctor told her that during her lifetime it won’t be available for her because they’re still doing different tests on stem cells here in the U.S.,” said Abbie Chrismer, Milly’s daughter-in-law.

So Chrismer is planning a trip to Baja, Calif. There, doctors at ProgenCell, a stem cell treatment center, will take healthy stem cells from her body and inject them into areas most affected by the MS.

Chrismer said she will make two more trips and complete three rounds of transplants by next July.

To send her off, Abbie and Ebb and Flow will host a drop-in on July 17 from 5-8 p.m. at the art co-op on Bypass 17.

Her three children, Kipp, 27, Katherine, 24, and Lindsey, 21, will attend, and friends who used to see her and her family often can stop by and say hello.

Chrismer doesn’t get out much anymore, as a result of the MS, she said, so the drop-in is a way to visit, and give back to the community that has helped her.

“I used to love to go to the beach and go outside,” she said. “Now I can’t do anything. I can’t even see.”

Most days she wakes up at 7 a.m., and with help from her husband, Tom, gets dressed and eats.

When MS first confined her to a wheelchair, she was able to go outside and enjoy fresh air with the help of a lift that took her from the main level of her Hagley home to the ground floor.

These days, however, she’s stuck inside unless someone helps her get the wheelchair over the threshold of a door.

“I feel like MS has taken my life away,” she said.

Most of the time she stays in her room, listening to audio books, sleeping, or sitting in her wheelchair while talking on the phone, checking her e-mail or surfing the Internet using a special enlargement feature on her computer.

Around noon her husband comes home and fixes her lunch. After lunch, she usually rests until 5 or 6 p.m., when Tom gets home from work doing home repairs.

On Sundays, she and Tom go to All Saints Church for worship.

Despite her physical losses, Chrismer remains optimistic.

“My spirits are good,” she said. “I think it’s because of God. I’m very close to God.”

If the stem cell transplants only reverse some of the neurological damage, Chrismer said she would be satisfied.

“Even if it doesn’t bring everything back, if it brings some stuff, I’ll be happy,” she said.

Multiple sclerosis causes inflammation in the body’s central nervous system. It occurs when myelin sheaths, structures that insulate nerve fibers, are destroyed in the spinal cord, optic nerves, brain stem and brain.

According to the Medical University of South Carolina’s multiple sclerosis clinic, 25 to 60 people out of every 100,000 in the South Carolina, which has a population of 4.5 million, will develop MS. The exact causes of MS are unknown, but scientific research indicates environmental factors or the presence of infections or viruses, such as measles and herpes, in the body could trigger MS inflammatory symptoms. Fatigue and loss of vision, or visual impairment, are the most common symptoms of MS. Others include: a loss of sensation in muscles, inability to distinguish temperature or touch, muscle weakness and tremors, pain and incoordination, hearing loss, slurred speech and difficulty swallowing.

Chrismer first began noticing signs of the disease in 1999, when she worked as a manager at the Rice Paddy in Georgetown. At the time, she just thought she needed new glasses.

When her doctor arrived at the restaurant to talk to her, she wished a new prescription was all she needed.

“The doctor made me sit down,” she said. “I still couldn’t figure it out.”

Chrismer had not heard of multiple sclerosis and didn’t know how it would affect her life.

“Now I know,” she said.

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