Stem cell transplant curing multiple sclerosis | Podcast

Stem cell survivor: Armidale nurse Nicole Corry has just completed her fifth week back at work after groundbreaking stem cell surgery to cure her severe Multiple Sclerosis.

Stem cell survivor: Armidale nurse Nicole Corry has just completed her fifth week back at work after groundbreaking stem cell surgery to cure her severe Multiple Sclerosis.

After years of battling an insidious disease, Nicole Corry has just spent her fifth week back at work.

Her story of sheer determination and strength has touched the hearts of everyone around her.

The 51-year-old was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Multiple Sclerosis in 2006.

“I was diagnosed and rapidly went into progressive MS which meant that I had to leave work in about 2009 and went downhill significantly after that to the point where I couldn’t walk from the kitchen to the door… because I had too much tremor and acute pain,” Ms Corry said.

“Everyone that I saw said there’s no treatment, there’s nothing we can do for you.

“It used to be called the “diagnose and adios” disease.”

Ms Corry said that she simply wouldn't accept that there was nothing out there to help her.

“I started sitting at home thinking “I can’t do this, I have a family to raise and a partner to look after”,” she said.

“I can really relate to someone who has been diagnosed with this illness and has got little children.

“When I was diagnosed, the person I saw said you have Multiple Sclerosis, there’s nothing much I can do for you and in 10 years you will be either wheelchair-bound, bed ridden, you’ll lose your partner, most likely you will not be employed, you’ll be on the disability pension and if you’re still here in 10 years time you’ll be lucky.

“It was all a bit devastating and looking a bit grim.”

It wasn’t until Ms Corry retired from work that she noticed an article overseas about stem cell treatment.

“We went to Germany and saw a doctor over there who was just on the cusp of stem cell treatment,” she said.

However that also proved to be a dead end.

“I was starting to get contractions… the pain in my leg was incredible at night time,” Ms Corry said.

“I became my partners patient… he had to do everything for me.

“Put my shoes and socks on, wash my hair, dress me, put me in the shower.”

Finally some hope came when Ms Corry found a story about a young woman who had undergone a stem cell transplant in Australia by neurologist Dr Colin Andrews.

“I came across a young woman’s story… who had a stem cell transplant in Canberra public hospital,” she said.

“We went to Canberra which is a long way from where we live.

“Dr Andrews was doing just a little group of people with the treatment that’s been used overseas successfully for someone that has an aggressive form on MS.

“I had my life to regain and nothing to lose.”

Ms Corry started to go down the transplant list and on January 25, 2011 she underwent the autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

“Essentially it’s a bone marrow transplant where they take all of your immunity,” she said.

“You have a couple of rounds of chemo and your stem cells get harvested and frozen.

“You go back down and your stem cells are re-infused.

“I have a new immune system but it doesn’t remember I have MS.”

From the first day after the transplant, Ms Corry could lie her legs straight in bed, something she had not been able to do for a very long time.

“You’ve got to get yourself moving, you’ve got to go to physio and do exercise,” she said.

As Ms Corry began to recover she started a blog where she could answer questions from people who were interested in her story.

“A lot of people were asking questions,” she said.

“I said I’m going to write a book… to answer some of those questions that people might have.

“It’s not a money making project.”

Ms Corry’s neurologist Dr Colin Andrews commented on the book when it was first released. 

“When I read this I nearly came to tears because of her sheer courage and determination despite dealing with an illness which is associated with fatigue, pain and reduced mobility,” Mr Andrews said.

“Fortunately the procedure is now becoming more accepted in neurological circles and this trend is obviously going to continue.”

Now, over five years after her surgery Ms Corry has just returned to work at the Armidale hospital as a community nurse.

“I approached Hunter New England Health and I’m the only person I know of in the area that’s under returned practice,” she said.

“As a nurse, if you’ve been out more than five years… you have to do either 450 hours of supervised practice… or you go to Sydney to the College of Nursing and do a very expensive course.

“The first couple of days I was a bit nervous but everyone’s been really supportive.”

Ms Corry said the stem cell transplant is still not an approved treatment in Australia for MS however St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney are currently doing a trial.

“If you were looking now you could get referrals overseas,” Ms Corry said.

Ms Corry said she was looking forward to her future and supporting those who chose to go down this path for treatment. 

“For my future I can see myself working part-time, working back in nursing… and promoting this sort of treatment,” she said.

The book, Multiple Sclerosis and Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant: One Patients Journey by Nicole Corry is available at the Armidale Library. 

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