Ameena with Dr. Anu Jacob at Cleveland Clinic 2-1655969223721
Ameena with Dr Anu Jacob at the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi: An Emirati school administrator who faced difficulty walking for a decade is now finally able to walk unassisted following a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) diagnosis, and subsequent treatment at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD).

Ameena had been living with undiagnosed MS because many of her symptoms did not match typical symptoms of the disease. She had struggled with organisational and clerical duties, in addition to a gradual loss of balance that forced her to use a cane when walking. But without a diagnosis, she had resigned herself to her condition.

Worsening symptoms

“It was about 10 years ago when I first observed some changes in my everyday movements. I tried to distract myself and focus on my work as a school administrator, and as long as I was busy, I was okay,” she said.

But eventually, she was unable to walk even 200 meters without assistance, and finally visited CCAD for medical advice.

“It was no surprise to me that Ameena was not diagnosed, despite 10 years of symptoms. Not every person with MS have typical symptoms, and some experience many seemingly unrelated and bizarre health problems that confuse doctors. Importantly, not every patient is able to explain their symptoms to the doctors. As a result, some patients just ignore symptoms or do not seek help, and they just cope with their difficulties. But careful history-taking and attention to detail led us to the conclusion that Ameen may have MS, primarily in the spinal cord,” said Dr Anu Jacob, director of MS and autoimmune neurology at the hospital.

Multiple sclerosis

MS is an autoimmune condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, and, according to a scientific study conducted in the UAE, the region is seeing a growing incidence of the disease. There are two stages of the disease: the relapsing stage lasts for many years and has effective treatment options, but in the progressive stage, the patient’s condition, especially mobility, gradually deteriorates and becomes more difficult to treat.

“Ameena’s long history of symptoms and gradual deterioration made progressive MS more likely, but I felt it important, particularly with the unclear past history, that we offer her our best treatments,” Dr Jacob said.

Ameena at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi-1-1655969221601
Ameena had been living with undiagnosed MS because many of her symptoms did not match typical symptoms of the disease.

New treatment regime

Ameena felt convinced enough to start a new treatment regime.

“Dr Jacob told me, ‘You can decline the new treatment and expect the wheelchair to be your best buddy, or commit to [the treatment] and if you are lucky, start running’,, And I told him [that I didn’t want to run, I wanted to fly]!” Ameena said.

She was determined, and even dreamt of covering all pavilions at the Expo 2020 Dubai on foot.

“It was something else, to be able to walk without any support, any assistance. All of this has been made possible by the caring staff at CCAD,” she said.

Not uncommon

Dr Jacob said it is not uncommon to see patients whose MS diagnosis has been delated.

“People need to be aware of the possibility of MS. We also need to believe that multiple sclerosis is treatable and not a terminal illness. It is possible to live a normal, or near normal, life with MS. I feel happiest when my MS patients tell me that they had almost forgotten about their MS until the hospital reminded them about their appointment with me!,” he said.

He also cautioned against a hurried diagnosis, which can cause people to be wrongfully labelled and put on the wrong medication.

MS Programme

The MS Programme at CCAD’s Neurological Institute is one of the largest in the region. Its care works with each patient and their family to ensure accurate and timely diagnosis, and offer long-term management support.