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MS won't beat me, vows brave woman raising cash for op that could transform her life

By Luke Barnes

Published 01/09/2016

Nicola Feenan with her sister Gillian Rea
Nicola Feenan with her sister Gillian Rea

It is the things like playing with her children that Nicola Feenan misses most since a shock diagnosis 11 years ago turned her life upside down.

That was when the mother-of-two from Co Down was told she had multiple sclerosis (MS).

The 35-year-old now uses a wheelchair, but a pioneering new stem cell treatment has given her hope that she might be able to one day beat the disease and walk again.

The Downpatrick woman's sister has launched an online appeal to help raise the £50,000 needed to send Nicola to the Riaz Clinic in Mexico.

Nicola said: "It's horrendous. Having two kids, I have to stay in the car when they go to the park or on the first day of school. It's the small things taken for granted that I really miss."

The mother-of-two was originally diagnosed with MS in 2005 after she began experiencing vision problems.

In the beginning, she could still walk if she used crutches, but after the death of her mother five years ago, the disease became progressive.

Despite that, Nicola is determined to stay strong for her son, Calum (11), and her seven-year-old daughter, Sophie.

"They're such kind children and more aware (than some," she explained. "My son goes into the shop to get something for me when I can't."

Nicola and her sister, Gillian Rea, were inspired to act after coming across the story of former MS sufferer Eric Thomson, from Co Durham.

In June, he flew to Mexico to undergo a hematopoietic stem cell transplant and chemotherapy treatment known as HSCT.

Initially unable to walk or use his right hand, he returned to the UK totally mobile.

HSCT is unavailable on the NHS, and the advanced state of Nicola's condition means that there are limited drugs British doctors can prescribe.

Her HSCT treatment would take place over the course of a month.

The first operation aims to stop the progression of the disease and the second to reverse the symptoms.

HSCT, which involves the transplant of stem cells, is a dangerous procedure, and has many potential complications.

It is only carried out on patients with life-threatening diseases.

While the chemotherapy is extremely aggressive, Nicola refused to be deterred and described it as her last chance.

"It's the thought of letting this disease take its course..." she explained.

"I just can't let another relapse happen."

Despite her debilitating condition, Nicola still works four days a week as an IT teacher in Newtownards.

"I think it's so important that my children see me working," she said.

"I refuse to let this beat me. If I didn't have work, I'd see a very different side of me."

Gillian said that she was amazed at the support that the crowd-funding page had received so far.

It has already raised nearly £1,500, despite only going online two days ago.

She described her sister as the rock of her family and praised her outlook through the "emotional roller coaster" of her illness.

Nicola hopes that the treatment will enable her to do the simple tasks which we all take for granted.

She said: "I'd love just to go to a shop again. "There's nothing radical - I just want to do something mundane."

To donate to Nicola's JustGiving page please visit justgiving.com

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