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To be young... and in a wheelchair

Little is understood about multiple sclerosis, but there is growing awareness of this insidious condition



Bombay Jayasri is part of a concert in support of multiple sclerosis sufferers. — Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

AS A 27-year-old waiting for a train in Mumbai's crowded suburban stations, Vibha Kulkarni began seeing two trains approaching her instead of one. She went to an ophthalmologist, complaining of blurring of vision.

A couple of drops and some tests later, she was fine.

Then three months later, she found her hand suddenly going numb, causing her to lose sensation in that limb. She constantly dropped things; even lost her purse.

Then her handwriting lapsed into an illegible scrawl.

Moving to Bangalore, she went to numerous doctors till finally a neurologist put her through an MRI scan and detected multiple sclerosis (MS). Vibha had never heard of it before, and neither had any of her family, but it overtook her life, causing her to give up her marketing job and confining her to a walker at home, and a wheelchair outside.

Hitting youth

Research into multiple sclerosis is still unravelling the mysteries of this disease which can affect people as young as 10.

Symptoms are unpredictable and vary from fatigue to problems with vision. The exact cause for MS is not properly known, but it is believed to be linked to gender, genetics, and environmental triggers. It affects the central nervous system (CNS) consisting of the brain, spinal cord and the optical nerves by damaging myelin, the fatty tissue which protects the nerve tissues of the CNS. When the myelin gets damaged, it lessens protection to the CNS besides making it hard for impulses to be conducted by the nerves, to and from the brain. MS is a chronic, unpredictable disease, but it is not contagious, not directly inherited and most people with MS are not severely disabled. Doctors have no complete cure for MS but "treatment often includes a combination of medication and physiotherapy," says D. Nagaraja, Director, NIMHANS.

Sometimes patients are put on steroids although there are obvious side effects: "I put on weight and had hair on my face," says Vibha.

But yoga has helped her, as has a supportive family.

"They understand that it is nothing that I have done," she says, marking a change from many families who discriminate against relatives who suffer from MS, which is still relatively unknown in India.

A concert in support of MS awareness, organised by the Multiple Sclerosis Society of India (MSSI) featuring renowned vocalist Bombay Jayasri, is being held at Chowdiah Memorial Hall on January 7. Call 22992626 for details.

HEMANGINI GUPTA

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