Nicola thankful for support as she gets ready to fly to Mexico for MS treatment

Nicola thankful for support as she gets ready to fly to Mexico for MS treatment

12 July 2017

A DISABLED Downpatrick mum will fly to Mexico this weekend thanks to a successful community campaign to help her secure radical medical treatment.

Nicola Feenan, who is in her 30s, will travel to South America with family members on Saturday to undergo gruelling treatment for MS, an autoimmune disease she has battled for the past decade.

The mother of two made the decision to sign up for groundbreaking Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT) last summer following a worrying deterioration in her condition.

Increasingly wheelchair-bound and struggling with facial numbness and excruciating back spasms, Nicola felt she had little choice but to risk four weeks of potent chemotherapy in the hope it would reboot her immune system, significantly reducing or reversing her symptoms.

Since she does not qualify for HSCT on the NHS — due to the progressive nature of her condition — Nicola joined a Mexican waiting list and launched an ambitious fundraising campaign to raise £50,000 needed for the treatment.

Nicola, and her sister Gillian Rea, made a public appeal for fundraising help in September and were stunned by local support. Through coffee mornings, sponsored walks and runs and a Strictly Come Dancing competition, Nicola reached her target in the spring and was offered a mid-July treatment date.

Ready to travel on Saturday, she will undergo a few last minute medical tests on arrival before beginning the regime during which she will remain in isolation to reduce the risk of infection.

Anxious about what lies ahead, and aware of complications that may arise as a result of the pioneering treatment, Nicola says she remains convinced HSCT is the right choice for her due to the increasing deterioration in her condition.

She said she no longer relapses in and out of the disease, but instead constantly battles new symptoms.

“I have not been particularly well recently and have had quite a few new symptoms, including something called an MS hug, which is an awful spasm around my ribs that makes it hard for me to catch my breath,” she said.

“I also have numbness in my face but I have just tried to think of the end goal. The fact I am getting so much worse reinforces my decision that this is the right thing.

“It is stressful to think about leaving the kids, but I have to focus and aim for August when I can’t wait to get home.”

Nicola said she is driven by the hope of walking again, as has been reported by some recipients of HSCT.

“The end goal would be to be able to walk,” she said.

“Straight away I would hope to experience what others have experienced and that is a feeling of the weight of the disease being lifted off. For the sensation in my head, legs and back to lift.

“I would hope for a general surge in energy. That is what I have heard about and that is my hope.”

Nicola said the support of her GP gives her confidence that she will be well looked after on her return.

“I will need to be so cautious flying home and will wear masks to prevent any infection,” she said.

“I will stay away from crowds while my immune system recovers.

“There is a period when your body will resist and will go into attack mode and it will be trying to overcome that. It is a complete reboot.”

Nicola said she has been moved by the momentum of the campaign, which she said continues due to the expensive aftercare she will face.

“The support has been phenomenal and helps me stay driven,” she said.

“It really is unbelievable and is something I will never forget.

“I intend to keep my supporters up to date through my Facebook page as I understand people will be interested in how things are going.

“Everybody’s disease is different and everyone responds differently so it is impossible to predict.

“I will take it day by day, hour by hour.”