Jenn Puk is a local mother of two who was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis almost 8 years ago, but the evidence of the disease began 23 years prior to that at age 17. She has been an active mother, with a full time job with Canada Post in Kendall and a volunteer with the Millbrook school breakfast program and with Millbrook Minor Hockey. In 2009, an MRI confirmed that MS was the source of her wide variety of symptoms including back pain and motor movement challenges. The symptoms remained manageable until she was in a significant car accident in January 2011. That event triggered a rapid decline in her health, and because she is a single mother, there has been a significant amount of pressure put on her two sons one of which is in Millbrook South Cavan Public School and the other attends Crestwood Secondary School.
Her illness is now very aggressive, and despite daily injections she is often confined to a wheelchair. Because her brain messages do not always make it to her muscles, she suffers from foot drop which makes it difficult to move around. She describes the process as resembling a flickering light- there is something interfering with the delivery pattern resulting intermittent message receipts. Recently the disease has affected her bladder, which she finds very disturbing.
A year ago, she contacted a clinic in California which provides stem cell treatments which have had positive results for many patients suffering from this illness. After a series of telephone interviews, screenings and blood tests, she was told a few weeks ago that she was eligible to undergo their stem cell treatment in the Stemgenix clinic. A clinical study has concluded that this treatment can improve the quality of life for sufferers of this debilitating disease. The procedure relies on an injection using patientès own stem cells, which they describe as unprogrammed cells in the human body that have the ability to change or “differentiate” into other types of cells and are the focus of a new field of science called regenerative medicine. Because these cells can transform into bone, muscle, cartilage and other specialized types of cells, they have the potential to treat many diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Diabetes among others.
Canada has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the world, with an estimated 100,000 Canadians living with the disease. While it is most often diagnosed in young adults aged 15 to 40, younger children and older adults are also diagnosed with the disease. It is classified as an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord). The disease attacks myelin, the protective covering of the nerves, causing inflammation and often damaging the myelin, which assists in the transmission of nerve impulses through nerve fibres. This unpredictable disease can cause symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lack of coordination, weakness, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes, resulting in physical, emotional and financial challenges.
Of course, medical treatments in the US come with hefty price tags, and this one is no different. The procedure alone costs US$15,000. Puk was encouraged to ignore the costs and book her appointment, which she has done. With hotel and flight reservations in hand, she is astounded at the support she has received from the community as her friends and family have set up a variety of fund-raising tools to help her finance the treatment.
There has been a bottle drive, a hockey pool, an event at the public schools and a Go Fund Me page set up by her Millbrook friends and neighbours, which has raised half of the targeted amount as of October 31st. Next week there is another event called Kiss MS Goodbye on Saturday November 5th starting at 7 p.m. It is an age of majority event hosted at Shots, a bar in Peterborough located at 379 George St. North. Tickets for the event cost $20, with the proceeds directed to the treatment. For more information, contact Krista Gallimore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jenn procedure is scheduled for November 8th. She is not expecting to be cured, but she hopes to be able to function more normally, relying on supports such as a cane instead of a wheelchair, get control of her bladder, and move with smoother, less spastic gestures. She would like to be able to attend the many sporting events in which her active sons participate, such as hockey and football games and allow her children to enjoy their youth instead of providing health care and support for her. The disease has forced them to grow up too quickly, she believes.
In the meantime, the fundraising efforts on her behalf continue. She is extremely grateful to the many people who have supported her in all of these events, and is overwhelmed with the kindness and generosity of this community and surrounding area. We look forward to hearing about her results. Good luck in California, Jenn! KG