MS breakthrough to be announced in Belfast, sufferers tell of hopes for future
Ground-breaking news about medical advances in the treatment of multiple sclerosis will be announced at an event in Belfast today.
Around 4,500 people in Northern Ireland suffer from MS, a neurological condition that affects the brain and spinal cord.
Among those who are hoping to hear of life-saving drug regimes at the Living with MS event at the Crowne Plaza at Shaw's Bridge is Colin Goodman.
The 32-year-old graphic designer was shocked when he was diagnosed earlier this year.
The father-of-three thought he was simply run-down from over-work when he started feeling tired and getting double vision in the periphery of his right eye.
But after his balance was impaired while playing football, he went for an eye test and was referred to a neurologist. He explained: "I went on to 'Doctor' Google while I was waiting for the appointment and realised it could be MS, although I didn't believe it.
"The neurologist sent me for an MRI.
"I was scared - all I could think of was my wife's uncle, who had it 48 years ago. There was nothing they could do for him."
A condition of the central nervous system, MS is unpredictable and different for everyone. Symptoms usually start in the 20s and 30s.
Colin's arose two years ago after the birth of his and wife Rachel's twins Elijah and Jacob, now three. The couple, who live on Belfast's Saintfield Road, also have a five-year-old son Zachariah.
While Colin was waiting for his MRI results, he decided to change his lifestyle radically by eating healthily and getting more sleep.
"I felt so much better that I was convinced I hadn't MS, so it came as a complete shock when the doctor confirmed that I had lesions in my brain," he said. "I have remitting relapsing MS - it's absolutely horrible to be told that, but he explained that it was caught early and it's not aggressive.
"I was put on two Tecfidera tablets a day. One of the side-effects is itchiness, a prickly heat, and there's a bit of fatigue.
"Another side-effect is stress. I can't cope with the boys screaming all at once. I need to take myself away and relax for a while."
Like Colin, Nicola Andrews (32) suffers from remitting relapsing MS, but manages to work full-time for the children's arts and crafts supplier Play Resource.
She said tiredness was the biggest issue she faced.
"I was diagnosed in 2014 and MRIs have shown that I have new lesions on my brain and spine, but, so far, I am not doing too bad," she said. "I have had a few episodes of brain fog - the MS hug - and pins and needles in my legs and pains that come and go in my right side.
"But the biggest thing that affects me is fatigue - you can be so tired that you can't chew food, string a sentence together or even remember what day it is - it's the most horrible feeling in the world."
Nicola lives in Newtownabbey with husband Robert, who runs Magic Man high-end repairs. Her first symptoms - pins and needles and numbness - emerged at 21, but receded.
"Each MS sufferer is like a snowflake, each one completely different to the other," she added.
"I may be fine now, but next year I could be telling a different story. Who knows?
"That's why events like Living with MS are so encouraging - they provide good information on the research into new treatments."
MS is a lifelong condition but treatments and specialists can help manage the condition and its symptoms.
The cause is unknown and there is no cure as yet, but research is progressing fast.
The free-entry Living with MS information conference is at the Crowne Plaza today.
The event runs from 10am to 3pm.