Julie (Marshall) Anderson, a 1999 graduate of West Central Area High School and young vibrant mother of two, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in July 2008. She says she believes she contracted the disease from a Hepatitis B vaccine. Julie lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with her husband, Mark, and their two children.
Julie is the daughter of Kent and Colleen Marshall of Barrett.
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body, by causing the body’s immune system to attack the central nervous system.
“I’ve been on a number of disease modifying drugs/therapies all with either unmanageable side effects or disease progression,” said Anderson, who had been working but now became a stay at home mom. “I had significant lesion burden on both my brain and my spine. Although I was ambulatory, I had a quite a few symptoms across the board: pain and weakness. My biggest struggle is with cognition, I could not remember things. For instance, I had to ask my 3-year-old if we had had lunch yet.”
It was hard for her to read books and remember anything she read.
“Mark mentioned stem cell transplant, or HSCT, a while back and I blew it off. Mid-December it crossed my path again and I pursued it."
HSCT (Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation) attempts to “reboot” the immune system. In HSCT for MS, hematopoietic (blood cell-producing) stem cells, which are derived from a person’s own bone marrow or blood, are collected and stored, prior to depleting much of the immune system using chemotherapy drugs. Then the stored hematopoietic stem cells are reintroduced to the body. The new stem cells migrate to the bone marrow and, over time, reconstitute the immune system.
“HSCT is available other places, but not all protocols are the same. I chose Dr. Burt, immunologist at Northwestern University, who had developed a ground-breaking protocol that was showing remarkable results. But everyone has to do their own research and make their own decision based on availability and their own needs.”
Julie went to Chicago on March 12 to have her blood tested by Dr. Burt. They took 18 vials of blood, plus x-rays, an EKG, etc., all to find out that she was a prime candidate for the treatment.
On March 18, she took a low dose of chemo to trigger the production of stem cells. She had to stay in the hospital, taking steroids, fluids, and post-chemo meds, as her immune system came back.
On March 29, her stem cells were harvested, by taking blood spinning it in a centrifuge to extract over two million of her stem cells, before returning her blood to her body. This procedure took between five and six hours of being hooked up to an IV.
On March 31, Julie was allowed to go home for a week, as she started to lose her hair, eyelashes and eyebrows because of the chemo.
On April 8, she went back to Chicago and checked into Prentice Womens’ Hospital on April 10, where she was hooked up again for fluids, four days of chemo, and a dizzying array of chemicals and meds, for five days, to prepare her body to receive her stem cells, which happened on April 15.
“Being reunited with my stem cells was a quick and easy procedure,” Anderson said.
On her Facebook page documenting the whole journey, she said she felt “an awesome surge of hope that goes beyond.”
A day later, the affects of the transplant caught up with her, as she developed a fever, headache and her blood pressure, and hemoglobin, dropped so low she required a blood transfusion.
Then things started to improve, with remarkable speed. In just a few days, Anderson found she could once again read with clarity, and devoured two books. She would walk a mile in 19 minutes, and on April 19, she slept through the night, a first in several months.
Still she suffered from often severe bone pain, but it was pain for a purpose, as her bone marrow started producing white blood cells ... a good thing!
Amazingly, on April 25 she was discharged and, one day later, was able to go home to her husband and their two children, age 4 and 6 years.
“My first week home was full of adjustment. I have a very active family. We eat a whole foods diet and cook from scratch. We wear gloves, a lot of hand washing, and I work managing my energy,” she said. “I’ve had to rethink things I used to do or eat without question (lots of fresh produce) and balance this with what my body actually wants me to do or eat.
"Germs used to be something we welcomed – bare feet everywhere, getting dirty, shaking hands, and lots of sharing. I have to avoid germs, dirt, dust, mulch, etc. It’s been missing things like this and the spring concert, zoo trips and May Day baskets (one of our favorite things to do!) that have been really hard for me. I know it’s necessary in the bigger plan, and stay focused on what’s yet to come.
“With close to a 90 percent success rate at stopping MS progression, not to mention that most people who have this treatment experience healing, I’m still in disbelief at what has taken place over the past four or five months,” said Anderson. “Nothing anyone has offered me medically or that I have been able to do on my own in the past 10 years can come anywhere close to that level of success. I have so much gratitude for Dr. Burt’s work.”
“We are slowly filling up on hugs, hand-holding and cuddles in our house. I’m so thankful to be home!”
Anderson said she cannot call the procedure she went through a cure, but her symptoms are pretty much gone at the present time and it is the best option to stop the progression of MS for her.