The unfinished health care battle really came home for the holidays in my family.
My mom is 71 and a retired public school teacher. In Sept. 2001, she awoke and found herself unable to walk. Eventually, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Yes, she is unusual to have recieved the diagnosis so late in life. Most people are diagnosed in their 20 or 30s. A doctor later determined she may have experienced earlier episodes that went undiagnosed.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive neurological disease. It is debilitating and can be fatal. Its progression and symptoms can vary greatly. There is no cure; the best one can hope for is arresting its progression, and with therapy, perhaps regaining functionality lost from attacks. Its progress can be tracked by its symptoms as well as scanning to detect the growth of lesions on the brain. The placement of these brain lesions can determine what functions are affected by the disease. They have yet to definitively determine the cause of MS.
I admire my mom. She has always cared well for her health. She was among the first wave of people to give up smoking when the health risks were made clear. She watched her own, and our family’s, diet carefully (no pre-prepared foods, home cooking, lots of veggies, no dessert, no fried food). She embraced the aerobic exercise fad of the 1980s and has always kept herself physically fit and active.
Once diagnosed with MS, she dedicated herself fully to her rehab, and with physical therapy, has nearly completely regained her lost mobility. She now walks with a cane, which is mostly unneeded. I encourage her to use it though, both for the added safety and as a way to telegraph her not-always-apparent challenges to people. (Please, don’t knock my mom over, give her a seat on public transport.) Her balance is not great, nor is she able to do all she could as before. She does present much younger than her 71 years however, both in appearance and the way she carries herself. She continues to lead an active social life, as well as working occasionally and volunteering with her church and community.
My mother, I am happy to report, has had no serious progression of her disease since her initial diagnosis 10 years ago. This is evident by both an absence of recurring attacks or symptoms, and subsequent brain scans that show existing brain lesions to be unchanged.
We can probably thank the drug Glatiramer, sold under the brand name Copaxone, for her continued good health. Every night she injects herself with this drug. I’m sure it isn’t fun for her, but she does as her doctors tell her, and she never complains. Copaxone has probably saved countless lives, and more importantly, as with my mother, helped people with MS maintain a good quality of life. (MS progression varies greatly; however, many people with MS are not as fortunate as my mother.)
The drug is also very is expensive, about $ 4,000 a month, if one were to pay cash for it. Which is why we’re so glad to have insurance! Should we need life-saving drugs, they will be there for us and we will not be financially devastated by our need for them. Isn’t that right?