In my own voice: Treating sleep apnea helped Ann Starr improve her quality of life


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.