Bethany Pappalardo was diagnosed with relapsing–remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) in 1998. At the age of 24, she could barely walk and was relapsing every three months. With no drug therapies available to her to combat the disease, she contacted Dr. Richard Burt at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University regarding his work with stem cell therapy and autoimmune diseases focusing on multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable and potentially disabling disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body. In MS, the patient’s immune system turns against the fatty layers of myelin that coat and protect neurons resulting in faulty transmissions of neural signals and symptoms ranging from weakness to hallucinations to cognitive decline. As the first major stage of MS, RMMS is characterized by flare–ups followed by periods of normal functioning. After 10 to 15 years of having RRMS, patients progress to the second stage called secondary progressive MS during which neurological decline and lack of muscle control become irreversible.
In early 2005, Bethany was accepted into Dr. Burt’s study, during which she received an autologous nonmyeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplant. Bethany’s immune stem cells were harvested from her blood and low–dose chemotherapy was used to kill the majority of her white blood cells responsible for myelin attack. Bethany received her stem cell transplant on March 8, 2005. She was released from the hospital after 16 days and although her immune system was still compromised, she was getting stronger every day. She was able to go back to work part–time three and a half weeks after her transplant and by the beginning of April 2005, she resumed normal day–to–day activities.
Bethany has been in remission from MS since her transplant and calls her transplant date her second birthday. After nearly 13 years, Bethany continues to live a normal life with no signs of ever being sick. She is capable of living on her own and has a healthy life. She works as a jewelry buyer in Peoria, Illinois, and has been a tireless advocate of stem cell research and treatments.