A 24-year-old girl’s spirited fight and awareness against multiple sclerosis has led her on the path of recovery from the disease that most often leads to paralysis or disability. Three years ago Kanika Juneja was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) that attacks the nervous system, affecting the brain and the spinal cord.
Costly injections were administered on her but without a success, even as doctors found the cause of MS “enigmatic” and its treatment an attempt of hope, she recalls. Kanika is the sister of Anmol Juneja, the face of organ donation in India. Anmol, 21, had made headlines with the first organ donation in India in 2012 when his family decided to go for voluntary organ donation to save multiple lives, after he was declared brain dead.
The Junejas had just about made peace with the irreparable loss and decided to move on with their life when grief struck the household yet again, with Kanika being diagnosed with MS. The symptoms showed up in 2014 as Kanika would feel dizzy and numb with loss of sensation in her right arm. Her condition gradually worsened over the next few weeks and she was admitted to AIIMS on October 8 that year, where she was diagnosed with MS.
“MS is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system starts attacking the protective sheet covering the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
After that she suffered several attacks which left behind a tell-tale sign of disability in me. “To control this condition, I was being administered expensive steroid injections which, doctors said, would only lessen the inflammation but not cure me.
“I was such a confident woman but the disease gradually started overpowering me,” Kanika says. After undergoing several rounds of costly treatments, her family approached the Fortis Memorial Research Institute having heard of the innovative methods of treatment in this field. Doctors at Fortis suggested her to opt for a BMT surgery.
She was admitted to hospital on January 6, where the doctors harvested the healthy stem cells from her body and they were stored at minus 180 degrees. After that she was put on chemotherapy for seven days during which the bad cells in her body which were causing autoimmunity were destroyed and the stored cells were infused to reset the body’s immunity, said Dr Rahul Bhargava, Director of Clinical Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplant at FMRI.
“The reason for multiple sclerosis remains an enigma. The clinical processes only help slow the progression of the disease and do not offer a sure shot cure,” Dr Bhargava says.
Kanika was discharged on January 26 and kept under isolation for a few months to ensure she do not contract any infection. “Kanika is now on the road to recovery and will be a sterling example for numerous MS patients,” Dr Bhargava says.
Kanika, who is now actively involved in raising awareness about MS amongst the community through social media, claims that the doctors at AIIMS did not inform her about this alternate treatment. “I had just completed my college education when I was diagnosed with MS. I was lucky because I got diagnosed within a week of my symptoms so I was able to avail treatment options faster.
“I started the multiple sclerosis Facebook community with the aim of raising awareness about the disease and exploring different treatment options. The conventional steroid injections and immune therapy are extremely expensive and don’t promise a cure. Therefore I decided to undergo a BMT,” she said.
Currently there are 2.3 million people living with MS worldwide. It is an autoimmune disease which has no known cause or cure. Occurring between the ages of 20 to 50, this is a condition wherein the auto immune system of the body begins to attack the nerves of the brain and spinal cord, damaging the tissue layer around the nerves.
This results in the slowing down of the brains functions and over the time patients and can cause a range of debilities, from vision loss to slurring of speech and walking difficulty. According to doctors, 60 per cent of the people who undergo BMT may not get attacks long term and 30 per cent will get benefited if they have some disability.
There are four types of MS cases. The most common one is the Relapse-Remitting MS where there are relapses and flare-ups. The Primary Progressive MS is a condition which affects only 10 percent of the population and Progressive Relapsing MS is when the disease has progressed and worsened to an extent where there is no hope. The Secondary Progressive MS is where the symptoms worsen considerably over a period of time.