April 20, 2004
Newcastle Evening Gazette
Fatigue is associated with many different illnesses but it's a symptom that multiple sclerosis sufferers know only too well.
Now, in MS Week, the Multiple Sclerosis Society wants to highlight the need for more research into the condition.
Jean Johnson walks on the treadmill with ease.
It's an activity she's making the most of.
The 55-year-old doesn't know how long she'll be able to stay active.
Because Jean has multiple sclerosis.
But she's not about to let that stop her doing exactly what she wants to do.
"It is very easy to lose what you have got if you don't use it," she smiles.
"It is important to keep going."
Jean is treasurer of the Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centre in Middlesbrough, a vital tool for people with the condition.
People can meet there socially, as well as getting help, advice and information.
And there's also a range of equipment, designed to keep people with multiple sclerosis active and cope with their condition.
Treadmills and bike-like machines line the rooms in a bid to boost the circulation, and physios as well as complementary therapists who often visit the site to give patients added benefits.
"It is a fabulous place," says Jean.
"You hear people saying there is nothing for multiple sclerosis sufferers but we are just around the corner.
"The problem is that a lot of people do not know we are here."
Jean was diagnosed with MS in 1994, at the age of 45.
But for around 15 years previous to the diagnosis, she believes she had been suffering from the condition.
Although she had been suffering from excessive tiredness, it wasn't until April 1994 that Jean took action, after a family holiday to St Lucia.
As she walked through Heathrow Airport, her bladder failed and just minutes later, she fell flat on her face.
"My husband just said 'You are going to the doctor as soon as possible'.
"If I got a cold, I would be off work for two weeks and that wasn't right.
"I went to the doctor with a list of my symptoms over the years and he did some tests and said he thought I should go to see a neurologist or orthopaedic surgeon."
After undergoing more tests at Middlesbrough's North Riding Infirmary, Jean was eventually diagnosed with MS.
"I never even suspected that," she explains.
"But when I was diagnosed, it came as a great relief because it answered so many questions.
"I used to get tired because I had done too much but there was also the MS fatigue side of it. It just makes you want to cry.
"You just have to stop. It makes you have to be careful where you go."
Jean took early retirement and everything seemed rosy when suddenly, things started to go downhill.
That was when she contacted the Therapy Centre, off the trunk road.
"Coming here I have met people I would not otherwise have met," she says.
"It is a brilliant place.
"There are things I cannot do now because I am on a slow downward slope but then again, I am getting older so I am on a downward slope anyway.
"You just adapt."
Nine out of ten people with MS are affected by fatigue and half of them say it is their worst symptom.
It means people can be so exhausted they can't do their job properly or even enjoy playing with their children.
Mike O'Donovan, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said: "Although we now have drugs which can reduce the severity and frequency of MS attacks, they are only suitable for about one in ten of the 85,000 people in the UK who have the disease.
"We must go on looking for more effective drugs to treat symptoms but there is increasing hope that a way can be found to mend the damage and stop long-term disability developing.
"We have earmarked £1m this year for grants for new research into repair and fatigue and we are already committed to spending more than £11m on around 50 other research projects.
"Without more funds we shall not be able to afford many of the high
quality project applications we are receiving which could bring us closer
to eliminating this dreadful illness."
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