Inken Stolley now runs a beauty salon in Abu Dhabi with her sister and follows up with specialists at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) prompted this German national to quit her stressful job back home and relocate to Abu Dhabi.

Now, 41-year-old Inken Stolley is living a balanced lifestyle in the UAE, and inspiring other patients with MS with her holistic lifestyle.

“MS has become my friend. It forced me to stop and take a moment to reflect on the stressful life that I was leading in Germany. I decided to reset my life, and let go of my fears and limiting beliefs and started to become much more aware of my diet and lifestyle. MS is my constant reminder to take care of myself. Now, I love to inspire people to live a conscious healthy lifestyle, whether they have MS or not,” Stolley said.

Initial diagnosis

The expat moved to Abu Dhabi in 2010, about a year after she had been diagnosed with the chronic, autoimmune disease. She now runs a beauty salon in Abu Dhabi with her sister and follows up with specialists at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

She recounted how she had first visited an eye specialist in Germany after experiencing blurry vision in her left eye. She was diagnosed with optic neuritis, a typical symptom of MS in which the nerve that transmits messages from the nerves to the brain is inflamed. Doctors conducted an MRI of her brain to confirm the MS diagnosis, after which she was prescribed a disease modifying therapy. However, she had a relapse with symptoms of numbness in 2010. That was when she decided to move to Abu Dhabi.

“Today, I am grateful. Had it not been for this condition, I wouldn’t have flown all the way to Abu Dhabi to start my journey into a well-balanced life. It is here that I found my family too and I now live symptom-free,” said Stolley, now the mother of a five-year-old boy.

Rising MS prevalence

Dr Beatrice Benedetti, Stolley’s physician at the Neurological Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, said the physical wellbeing and the progression of the condition in MS patients is crucially dependent on a healthy and active lifestyle, mental health and a medication regimen.

According to a 2019 article in the Multiple Sclerosis International journal by researchers at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, the incidence and prevalence of MS is on the rise globally,and is more notable in the Middle East. Another 2016 study conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers, in collaboration with Abu Dhabi health authorities, showed an incidence of MS that was almost double the global average, with more than half of the patients being Emiratis.

Model patient

“I believe [Stolley] is an inspiring example for people with MS. One of the main messages that we share with our patients is that they should live a normal life. Most patients can get married, have children, work, travel, exercise, do anything they aspire to do,” Dr Benedetti said.

While there is no cure for MS, in most cases, relapsing remitting MS can be managed well, especially if treatment is started early in the course of the disease. Paying attention to nutrition and exercise can contribute to improving patients’ health and strength, and slow down the progression of the condition. Patients are recommended to have a well-balanced diet and maintain an optimum level of vitamin D. They are also advised to do moderate exercise and strength-training to build muscle mass and overcome stiffness.

“There are several misconceptions regarding work and exercise among MS patients. They believe exercise may make the symptoms worse. On the contrary, it is highly recommended that MS patients stay active to maintain their strength and balance. I keep reminding my patients that as long as they take their medications, lead a healthy lifestyle and follow their doctor’s advice, most of them can go about doing all their regular activities,” Dr Benedetti said.

Giving others hope

According to Stolley, she has managed to keep her symptoms at bay by being disciplined about her holistic lifestyle. “I care a lot about my nutrition, the quality and quantity of water I drink, spending time in nature as well as my healthy sleep habits — everything I had ignored before I got MS. I exercise daily and start my day with meditation and mindfulness because that keeps my body and mind in balance,” she said.

Stolley also connects with MS patients all over the world as an MS Hope Ambassador to help them make the same transformation.

“I’m on a mission to spread the word about healthy living. I want to support more people in the UAE to understand MS better and see this as a blessing to turn their lives around and be able to live a positive balanced life,” she said.

Read more

New website

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi has launched a new website in English and Arabic that offers MS patients and their families practical advice in a simple and easy-to-understand language on topics including symptoms, diagnosis, treatments and lifestyle, as well as exercise and diet. The site also provides support materials and curated external links for physicians and the wider MS community in the UAE.