Alexander Wallerson was 12 years old when he saw a popular movie with his mother. Now 26, he remembers that specific day vividly. It was the first time he experienced the signs of multiple sclerosis (MS)."I walked like I was drunk," says Wallerson, who lives in New Brunswick. "I was limping but not in pain."
His mother, a nurse, was concerned and brought him to their family doctor. Imaging tests revealed that Wallerson had relapsing-remitting MS.
It's estimated that more than 8,000 American children are currently fighting MS. The most common presentations of the disease include visual impairment, transverse myelitis, arm-leg weakness, sensory disturbances, inflammation of the spinal cord, or balance problems. And like most diseases, early intervention offers the greatest hope of mitigating patients' symptoms.
Pediatric neurologist Vikram Bhise, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and chief, division of child neurology and neurodevelopmental disabilities at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, has dedicated his career to treating MS and other central demyelinating diseases.
The only dedicated pediatric MS program in the state, Rutgers Health works to provide cutting-edge therapies, patient and family education, and access to clinical trials. A comprehensive care plan is developed for each patient to address education, cognition, social functioning, mental health, daily activities, and quality of life. The disease often is more inflammatory in children, causing younger patients to have more frequent attacks than adults. The goal is to prevent further relapses by pairing disease-modifying medical treatments with adjunct therapies, such as physical therapy, to preserve function.
Every day that a patient lives with MS, the disease is working against them. The challenge is not knowing if what we do now will be effective in the future."
Vikram Bhise, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and chief, division of child neurology and neurodevelopmental disabilities, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
Like Wallerson, many patients first experience motor and body-movement issues. Other signs of MS include sensory issues, such as numbness and tingling in the body; blurred vision, pain in the eye, and/or color desaturation; and bladder leakage or urgency.
Wallerson's high school years were punctuated with short episodes of double vision, right-side numbness, and left-side weakness. He discussed these issues with Dr. Bhise, who prescribed a regimen of Rebif injections every other day. Throughout his teen years, Wallerson continued to play tennis and exercise, and he followed a healthy diet. He suffered only one major attack in high school and was able to graduate near the top of his class, garnering scholarships for college.
For Wallerson, the potential loss of dexterity interrupted his goal of becoming a neurosurgeon. Instead, he studied information technology at Rutgers University and is now a 3-D modeler for a solar energy company.