Rutgers Health is leading the Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis and Demyelinating Diseases Program, the only program in the state of New Jersey designed specifically to support children with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The support program seeks to promote children’s access to cutting-edge therapies and clinical trials, and to educate them and their family members about the disorder. Children participating in the program will have access to a personalized care plan that has been designed to help them face daily life challenges posed by MS.
Statistics indicate that approximately 8,000 children in the U.S. alone are living with MS. The first signs of the disorder usually include changes in vision, difficulties in balance, weakness or loss of sensation in the arms and legs, bladder incontinence or urgency, and spinal cord inflammation.
As with any disease an early diagnosis and prompt treatment can make the difference, and offer children the chance to lead a better life.
Unlike adults, children tend to experience MS relapses more often because the disorder tends to be more inflammatory. For that reason, in order to prevent disease relapses and guarantee that children have the best quality of life possible, a combined approach of disease-modifying medications and complementary therapies (e.g., physical therapy) are warranted.
“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, said in a press release. Bhise is an associate professor of pediatrics and chief of the division of child neurology and neurodevelopmental disabilities at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Alexander Wallerson, one of Bhise’s patients, was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) when he was just 12 years old, after he started having trouble walking.
“I walked like I was drunk,” said Wallerson, who now is 26 years old and lives in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “I was limping but not in pain.”
While he was attending high school, Wallerson continued to experience on-off attacks of MS, in which he would have episodes of double-vision, numbness, or weakness in one side of his body.
After discussing his symptoms with Bhise, he was prescribed Rebif (interferon beta-1a), an immunomodulator medication that has been approved in the U.S. and the European Union for the treatment of RRMS, to control his symptoms.
After starting his treatment regimen with Rebif injections every other day, his symptoms improved and Wallerson carried on with his life. He continued to practice sports, graduated near the top of his class, and received several scholarships for college.
Although MS prevented him from becoming a neurosurgeon, Wallerson enrolled at Rutgers University to study information technology, and is now a 3-D modeler working for a solar energy company.