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Winthrop University Hospital

Fighting Back:
Doctor & Patient Fight Multiple Sclerosis

(Above, l.-r.) Malcolm Gottesman, MD, Chief of Neurology and Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center at Winthrop; patient Allison Bryant of Huntington; and Sharon Friedman-Urevich, Nurse Practitioner and Coordinator of Winthrop’s MS Treatment Program.
When Allison Bryant, a social worker and dance instructor in her mid-20s, began to experience problems with coordination and balance she wondered why she was losing her grace as a dancer.

But the clumsiness continued to get worse, and Allison consulted her primary care doctor. Many months and doctors appointments later, Allison learned that she had multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.

In MS, the body’s immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers the nerves, causing interference in the communication between the brain and the rest of the body, and ultimately, in some cases, deterioration of the nerves themselves.

Symptoms of MS may be mild and can include numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable; they may come and go, and they can vary tremendously from one person to another.

Allison began receiving medical treatment for MS, but when she became dissatisfied with her treatment, she turned to the MS Society for a referral to a new specialist. That’s when she learned about Malcolm Gottesman, MD, Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center and Chief of Neurology at Winthrop.

“I asked around and heard nothing but praise about Dr. Gottesman,” remembers Allison. She scheduled an appointment, and at her first visit, she was not disappointed.

“Dr. Gottesman spent a great deal of time with me,” Allison said. “He asked me not only about my medical history but also about my life and my experiences. After our meeting and examination, Dr. Gottesman introduced me to Sharon Friedman- Urevich, Nurse Practitioner and Coordinator of Winthrop’s MS Treatment Program. Sharon showed me around the Infusion Center; and set me up with a personal contact at the MS Society and a support group for MS patients.”

“It was clear that Allison had a particularly aggressive case of the disease,” reports Dr. Gottesman. MS is an unpredictable disease, and even during what seems to be effective treatment, patients often experience relapses from which they may partially – but not fully – recover. These ups and downs can lead to a gradual deterioration of overall health.

“Allison had five relapses in two years,” said Dr. Gottesman, “and had been treated with many of the FDA-approved agents without a marked response.” Her illness was progressing and at the age of 28 Allison was wheelchair bound.

After six weeks of intensive in-patient rehabilitation at a local facility in 2008, Allison was told that she would never walk again. Allison was wheelchair bound for eight months, but continued treatment with Dr. Gottesman, who knew that each MS patient responds differently to treatment, and they had not yet exhausted all of their options.

“We started an aggressive course of chemotherapy using a drug called Novantrone,” he said, “and at last Allison responded exceptionally well.”

The Novantrone was administered in Winthrop’s Hematology/Oncology Division outpatient office, in close collaboration with the physicians in that practice.

“I was in my wheelchair in my bedroom at home in Huntington,” Allison recalls, “and all of a sudden I had the feeling that I could stand. I braced myself, and tried to stand and sure enough, I did it!” “I cried out to my family, yelling for them to ‘come quick!’ and they ran in and were amazed to see me standing there.”

Summer 2008 – Allison Bryant visits Disney
World with her parents, Jean and Bruce Natalie.

October 2009 – Allison competes in a dance competition.

Allison immediately insisted on going back to intensive rehabilitation to learn to walk again, and in the months since that amazing day in April 2009, she has returned to dancing, and has even launched a dance school where she offers free dance and movement classes for children with special needs and for adults with MS. For these special groups, which are very close to her heart, Allison focuses on dance movement exercises, which help participants develop coordination and balance, and “guided imagery,” during which students are encouraged to imagine themselves doing activities such as dancing in order to experience the joy and benefit of such physical activities.

Allison continues to be under the care of Dr. Gottesman and the MS Treatment Center at Winthrop and is doing exceptionally well.

“Allison has shown remarkable grace and dignity despite quite severe challenges,” reflects Dr. Gottesman, “and it is extremely gratifying to see her not just walking – but dancing again.”

Affiliated with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Winthrop’s MS Treatment Center provides more than 400 patients with comprehensive, expert medical attention combined with patient education and compassionate care. In addition to Dr. Gottesman and Ms. Friedman-Urevich, the Center is staffed by Denise Cheng, RN, and Eileen Boylan, RN, both of whom are MS-certified and provide invaluable support to the patients. The Center is one of the few on Long Island certified for office-based intravenous administration of Tysabri®, and patients of Winthrop’s Center also have the opportunity to participate in clinical research trials of FDA-approved and experimental medications.

For more information about the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center at Winthrop, please call 1-866-WINTHROP.
Vol. 19, No. 3
Fall 2009

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