Primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) is different from the more common form, which is characterized by relapses. It represents only 10-15 percent of cases. Ann Starr’s primary progressive MS has progressed slowly since she was diagnosed 15 years ago, but she lives with difficult symptoms, notably fatigue. In Gary Stanton, MD, a neurologist at Emerson, the Fitchburg resident found a physician who is helping her manage the disease in a way that she appreciates: mainly by searching for ways to address her symptoms.
From the time you receive an MS diagnosis, you wonder what will happen — how this will affect your life? Once I got over the initial shock, I dealt with it. I noticed that I gradually had difficulty paying attention and concentrating. It’s the cognitive issues that are most frustrating to me. I ran a medical billing and consulting business, and I began to cut back my hours before I finally sold the business.
My disease is fairly stable, but the extreme fatigue has affected my quality of life. I have to rest during the day, and I go to bed very early. In the morning, the thought of having to shower, dry my hair and get dressed was overwhelming. I would have to keep sitting down to rest. I’d been going to Dr. Stanton for about three years when he raised the issue of my having a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea. I was skeptical, because I didn’t recognize any sleep-related issues. For example, I don’t snore, and I don’t have the other risk factors for sleep apnea.
The next time I went for an appointment, Dr. Stanton brought up a sleep test again. He explained that, if I did have sleep apnea, we could treat it, and it would definitely improve my fatigue. It seemed reasonable, so I was tested, and we discovered that I do have sleep apnea. I started wearing one of the new, smaller CPAP devices when I sleep. It took a few weeks to feel the impact, but it’s significant. I would say I feel 20 percent better, which is huge. It means I now have the energy to do things that once felt like a monumental struggle.
Dr. Stanton never gives into the status quo; he is continually thinking about and researching all the possible options that might help me. As he said about the chance that I might have sleep apnea: ‘It’s too easy to dump everything in the MS bucket.’ He convinced me to have a sleep test, and he was right.
A few months before he began managing my MS, I went to Dr. Stanton for treatment of sciatica. I never experienced anything so painful. I tried physical therapy and saw a chiropractor, but nothing helped, and I prefer to not take pain medication. I heard that Dr. Stanton uses ear acupuncture to treat pain, so I made an appointment. He explained how my nervous system was in a pattern of producing pain, and acupuncture — specifically ear acupuncture — could be effective at breaking the pain cycle.
After just one treatment and within a couple of days, the pain was gone. Sometime later my granddaughter was experiencing post-concussion headaches, so I suggested she make an appointment with Dr. Stanton. After three ear acupuncture treatments, her headaches were gone.
I am grateful my MS has been so stable; I’m trying to live my life as normally as possible. The MRIs show there has been little change, so I see Dr. Stanton once or twice a year. He is supportive and reassuring. Most important, he and I are in sync about how to manage my MS. I still have physical limitations, but thanks to Dr. Stanton, I have increased energy, which allows me to persevere mentally.
My husband and I agree that we’ve always had great experiences at Emerson. The hospital has a real treasure in Dr. Stanton, who has such an intellect, along with a caring nature. He has benefited me, and I am sure he has benefited many others.