BROWNFIELD, Maine — It's a disease that affects 2.3 million people around the world and about one million people in the U.S.
Multiple sclerosis impacts the brain and central nervous system, causing a number of symptoms that can include vision loss, pain, fatigue, numbness, and neurological problems.
A mom from Brownfield is among a growing number of MS patients heading south of the border to undergo hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, known as HSCT. Last November, Anna Mosca was running a successful dog grooming business out of her home when suddenly her left hand went numb.
"It spread to four fingertips, and it started moving down my hand and moved up my arm. There is something really wrong," Mosca said.
Two trips to the ER still didn't clear up why her symptoms were getting worse. Finally, an MRI and a spinal tap revealed Relapsing-Remitting Multiple sclerosis, a type of MS where symptoms get worse, followed by some improvements. The disease uses your immune system to attack the brain and central nervous system.
Mosca had to close her business. She began walking with a cane.
There is no cure for MS, but the mother of two began taking medications that slow the degenerative disease.
"So they don't stop it. Instead of being in a wheelchair in five years, maybe in 10 years," Mosca explained.
Through a support group, she learned about the hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the treatment involves wiping out the patient's immune system with chemotherapy and rebooting it with the patient's own stem cells so it stops attacking the central nervous system.
The treatment is only available in the U.S. for patients in clinical trials, but Mosca was not considered a candidate. The treatment is also performed in other countries, including Russia and Mexico.
In November, Mosca plans to travel to Puebla, Mexico to undergo HSCT treatment at Clinica Ruiz. The clinic has two centers, which have treated more than 1,400 patients with MS and autoimmune disorders. Nearly half are from the U.S.
Dr. Guillermo Ruiz-Arguelles is a hematologist who has trained at the Mayo Clinic. Ruiz-Arguelles, who goes by Dr. Ruiz, says patients stay for 28 days and are sent home with antibiotics and antivirals to help rebuild their immune systems. He says out of five years of following patient outcomes, 80 percent of patients have a positive response to the treatment.
"Forty percent of patients do see a halt to the progression of the disease, and 40 percent do improve their neurological condition," Dr. Ruiz explained.
HSCT costs $54,000 dollars, not including travel expenses. A GoFundMe is set up to help cover Anna's expenses. Other donations are also coming in from the Brownfield community, other parts of western Maine, and New Hampshire.
Thirty-seven thousand dollars has been raised so far. The possibility of putting MS into remission is bringing new hope to Mosca and her family.
"Hopeful urgency where we can potentially see this go away permanently," Anna's husband, Jason Wood, said.
"I want to be able to be a mom to the kids, I want to be a wife," Mosca added.