A Greenisland woman is offering her support for a campaign from the MS Society as new therapies are emerging to treat the condition.
Mother-of-two Joanne Turkington was diagnosed with relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis in 2011, aged just 33. She is one of more than 4000 people living with MS in Northern Ireland, which has one of the highest rates of the condition in the world.
The exact cause of MS is not known but it is likely to be a mixture of genetic and environmental factors.
Treat Me Right, which has been launched during MS Week 2014 (April 28 – May 4), seeks better access to all effective MS treatments for people living with the condition in Northern Ireland.
Joanne, now 36, was working as a GP when she began to experience numbness, extreme fatigue and tingling in her neck and legs. Her symptoms flared up during her second pregnancy .
“As a GP, I think the possibility of MS was always in the back of my mind but I always tried to find other excuses,” said Joanne, who lives with her husband Richard and two young sons. “I put my numb feet down to the pressures of pregnancy and tried to forget about it but my symptoms got worse and I went into labour early. Because [of this], I was given steroids which seemed to improve things for a while.”
However, Joanne experienced a significant relapse and was admitted to hospital.
“I was having seizures, couldn’t speak and lost all strength in my arms. It was terrifying for me and my husband,” she added. “When I finally got the diagnosis of MS it was a strange sort of relief because I knew why I was experiencing all these symptoms, but it was still a shock.”
Joanne was also faced with optic neuritis, leading to a temporary loss of vision in her left eye. “So many of my symptoms are invisible to others, in particular fatigue. It can be frustrating because people say ‘you’re looking well’ even though on the inside I’m feeling dreadful,” she said.
Patricia Gordon, NI Director of the MS Society said: “Effective medicines are emerging that could dramatically change the landscape of treatment for people with MS, but the years of research that led to their development will count for nothing if people can’t get hold of them.
“We’re worried the gap is widening between the best care some people receive and the worst care many more experience. We understand the pressures the health service is facing, but there are licensed medicines that can transform the lives of people with MS, and it’s shameful that they are out of reach for so many.”