Risking her life to save it: Local woman tries stem cell transplant to control MS

Local woman trying experimental treatment to stop debilitating disease

Chelsea Jennings uses yoga to stay centered. Its teaching keep her positive, which is important for for someone about to risk her live to save it. 

She's only 26 and facing a rapidly progressing debilitating disease that will likely put her in a wheelchair within a year.

As a new mom, she won't accept that.

That's why she's risking her life for an experimental treatment that could possibly cure her disease.   

Her motivation to try an experimental stem cell transplant to control her multiple sclerosis? Her 18-month-old son Camden and husband Jeff. "I understand that there is an extreme risk, but if the medication is not working for me I cannot just slowly deteriorate in front of my family, my son," Chelsea says. "I cannot have that happen."

Diagnosed five years ago, Chelsea tried every MS medication available, but couldn't tolerate them. She researched alternatives and found Dr. Richard Burt at Northwestern University who performs hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for MS. Last month, she went in for testing and was approved. 

Unfortunately it's not covered by her insurance. 

Undaunted, Chelsea held fundraisers to come up with the $125,000 dollar cost for a treatment with no guarantees. "Sometimes I do get scared and I do think, 'Well. what if I go through this whole thing and it doesn't work?' but I feel like I have to, " she explains. "I feel like I'm called to do this. This is my path, my journey."

This Friday, she'll receive chemotherapy to mobilize stem cells into her blood, then daily injections to boost the number. 10 days later, the cells will be collected and frozen. Chelsea will be able to come home for a couple of weeks before her next phase: more chemo to suppress her immune system and then receiving back her stem cells. 

The hope is the new cells will regenerate the damage from MS. 

But the treatment is not without consequences. There is a low chance of death from the procedure, plus she'll be at higher risk from illness initially and likely go into early menopause. 

While considered experimental, this treatment has been studied for more than a decade. 

Research shows 83 percent of patients stay in remission for two years post-transplant.  

© 2017 WKYC-TV


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