Wolfville woman with multiple sclerosis finds hope in research
Research keeps Julia Stewart of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, going.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2004, Julia experienced severe tremors in her arms and legs, pain, and a rapid decline in her ability to look after herself. In fact, she could scarcely walk and had to give up her demanding job as a tour guide.
“It was so frightening,” says Julia. “I was in desperate need of help. Fortunately, I found it at the Dalhousie MS Research Unit, where they enrolled me in clinical trials. It was a comfort to be surrounded by people who are dedicated to finding a cure.”
The drugs helped control Julia’s symptoms but they did not stop the relentless progress of the disease. In MS, the layer of myelin that protects the bundles of connective nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord (known as ‘white matter’) is damaged over time, leading to a wide range of neurological symptoms. The disease can progress slowly or rapidly, with or without long periods of remission. Julia had a progressive form of the disease that demanded more aggressive therapy, which she began in 2006.
“Now, I’m able to ride my bike and walk my dog. I feel great,” Julia says. She has even been able to complete a Masters degree and begin a new career as a youth services librarian with Halifax Public Libraries. She does, however, have to inject herself with a powerful disease-stabilizing drug every day.
“I’m glad the first oral MS medications are being tested in clinical trials and may soon be available,” says Julia. “I would love to take a pill instead of giving myself injections.”
Julia knows that research is the path to better long-term treatments, with fewer side effects, for herself and for others who will be diagnosed with MS in the future. “It’s a complex disease, there’s still so much to learn about it,” she remarks. “I’m pleased to take part in the Molly Appeal, which is raising money to foster the next generation of neuroscience researchers… like Erin Mazerolle, who is using advanced brain imaging techniques to learn about white matter.”