Tackling MS battle head on
ON her 30th birthday, 17 years ago, Stanthorpe woman Julie Hentschel had a life-changing and very frightening experience.
Julie, at the time a mother to three young children, went completely blind in an instant.
"All I could see was black. It wasn't gradual. It just went - bang - and I haven't had it happen again since."
She went to her GP, and was sent straight to Stanthorpe Hospital's accident and emergency department where a doctor immediately began tests.
"Then, in five minutes, he was shaking his head and saying he would ring a specialist, who I found out later was a neurologist."
Eventually, Julie was diagnosed with MS, or multiple sclerosis, a chronic and often debilitating illness which experts say is on the rise in Australia while at the same time remaining largely misunderstood.
Recent statistics show that 25,600 Australians have MS - an increase of 4400 over the past eight years - and on average more than 10 Australians are diagnosed with MS every week.
A person with MS suffers an inflammatory neurological condition where their immune system attacks itself and damages the protective insulation surrounding the nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord.
Julie - who relies on a wheelchair for mobility - says MS gets worse "no matter what you do", but she is dedicated to living each day as it comes, and with a positive attitude.
"I just keep going with what I can, the best I can, as long as I have my friends and family here which I do."
She says she is "extremely happy" with her NDIS plan which provides help around the home with cleaning, washing and other jobs.
Her ongoing medical plan has been more problematic, as she has had severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, to any MS medication she has been prescribed and now uses herbal remedies to alleviate symptoms that can include dizziness, nausea and allergies.
"Unfortunately, I was allergic to each drug the neurologist gave me. I'd either throw up constantly or couldn't breathe which was extremely scary."
However, during the past two years she has been feeling "pretty good".
"My motto is live my life to the fullest.
"The more you think about MS, the more you stress, so I don't think about it too much."
She said the auto-immune disease created a different experience for each person.
"For me, I am just pleased to go to bed at night and wake up of a morning. MS has certainly slowed me down, but I have learnt new hobbies, crafts and still have a very positive outlook on life."
MS Research Australia has launched Kiss Goodbye to MS this month in a bid to raise $1.3 million this year and promote the disease as a health priority.
CEO MS Research Australia Matthew Miles said MS needed to be higher on the community radar.
"We are at a tipping point with research which is taking us close to finding the cure for MS.
"Now is the time to really forge ahead and accelerate our research efforts rather than let them keep ticking along at the same pace."
Kiss Goodbye to MS donations can be made by visiting www.kissgoodbyetoms.org.