the torch Summer 2016, Issue 2 - Page 10

FEATURE Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center of Dallas provides caring support to growing patient population When Dallas resident Schmyra Green learned she had multiple sclerosis, she said it was like being hit by a windstorm. “It just comes from nowhere, and it turns your life upside down,” said Schmyra, who was diagnosed three days before her 25th birthday in 2010. Multiple sclerosis, or MS, turns people’s lives upside down because it’s a long-lasting autoimmune disease for which there is no cure. It affects the brain, spinal cord, vision and muscle control. Patients often go through periods of exacerbations or“flare-ups,” which may either gradually go away or leave lasting effects. Symptoms often include problems with decreased mobility; vision changes; cognitive difficulties, including concentration and multitasking; urological issues; and extreme fatigue. In the midst of withdrawing from college and dealing with a less-than-supportive employer, Schmyra found a team of knowledgeable concerned caregivers at the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center of Dallas, a Baylor HealthTexas affiliate. They have helped her navigate life with MS. “I’ve been stable for four years now. Fortunately, I found a center that provides excellent medical care delivered with empathetic support,” Schmyra said of the team led by Annette Okai, M.D. Schmyra is one of more than 1,000 patients who receive care at the Center. Its growth is a testament to the need for all-inclusive MS care. Patients come from all over the region because the care they receive is comprehensive and compassionate. And although growth has been steady, there’s a need and desire to enhance and expand services. A Rare Resource for MS Patients The Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center of Dallas is one of two centers in North Texas designated as a comprehensive MS care partner by the National MS Society (NMSS). Patients have access to an infusion center, support groups, and phase III and IV drug trials. MS is a complex disease that affects multiple functions of a person’s life and requires multiple services. This is beyond the scope of a general neurologist and a specialist is often needed to provide 10 that care to improve the quality of life for the patient. Beyond the services, though, patients have come to love the personal and individualized care from Dr. Okai and her team. “I believe that going to a team that specializes in this specific condition is invaluable,” said Angela Khan, a patient of the Center. Angela is also a division director for Training and Development at Baylor Scott & White Health. Angela shares her story about MS and the MS Center with new hires at New Employee Orientation. “I always share that everyone along my journey — from coworkers to the care team at the facilities and Dr. Okai’s office — has been so supportive and treats me as though I’m the only patient they have that day.” “When you become a ‘professional patient,’ and you know something like MS is so unpredictable, it can create such anxiety, especially for someone like me, who is generally the caregiver in many situations instead of the one receiving care,” Angela said. “I have learned that people truly do care and the support my Baylor family has provided me helps to ease that anxiety.” Personalized Care Supporting patients throughout their MS journey is something Dr. Okai takes personally. “I wanted a career where I could have a long-term relationship with patients,” she said. “There are few specialties in neurology that allow for a long-term, close relationship with patients.” A mentor early in Dr. Okai’s training helped her see that she could develop long-term patient relationships by specializing in multiple sclerosis. Because patients are diagnosed relatively young — often in early adulthood — and live with the disease for life, Dr. Okai and her team form close bonds with patients, while providing them with comprehensive and advanced care. Greater Need for MS Care As successful as the MS Center is, there is a need to expand and enhance comprehensive care for MS patients, which requires additional funding. In addition to the complexities of caring for such a