Nicole Corry had been a Registered Nurse for over 20 years before she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She underwent stem cell treatment in Canberra, Australia and has now recovered to the point where she has full return to practice clearance, with all restrictions lifted. Nicole has recently received Guyra’s Citizen of the Year Award and is the author of a published book, Multiple Sclerosis and Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant: One Patient’s Journey. FOCUS talks with Nicole to find out more of her journey …
Hi Nicole. Tell us about your history as a nurse, to the point where you were diagnosed with MS.
I had been a Registered Nurse working in the local health area for over twenty years when I was diagnosed with primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis in 2006. During my nursing career, I worked in many areas in the Armidale Hospital, including as Clinical Nurse Specialist in Intensive Care, Patient Transport, After Hours Management and Child Youth and Family Manager in Armidale Community Health.
I’m sure that this affected everything in your entire life. How did you cope?
This devastating diagnosis meant that I was no longer able to continue working as a nurse, and I retired in 2009 to my home at Guyra. The Multiple Sclerosis symptoms increased, being a loss of balance and weakness in one leg, increasing to the inability to walk even short distances, and difficulty doing even simple daily activities. These daily activities, such as being able to cut up your own food, carry a mug of coffee and even wash my own hair became increasingly difficult. I felt my life was slipping away. I had chronic pain, weakness and muscle spasms in my whole body. My partner Phillip, also a Registered Nurse, became my full-time carer. Things were looking grim, and I felt I had no future.
How did you find out about the stem cell treatments in Germany?
My partner Phillip and I went in search of answers and treatment for my illness, travelling as far as Germany. A chance reading of an article about another Australian, Carmel Turner, gave us hope of a treatment – an Australian neurologist who could help me in Canberra. I met with Dr Colin J Andrews in 2011 and was accepted into a small trial of eight patients who underwent the stem cell procedure, called an “Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant (HSCT)” in 2012 at the Canberra Public Hospital.
How long did you have to stay in Canberra, and can you tell us a little about the treatment?
The treatment uses a course of chemotherapy and is similar to those patients undergoing a bone marrow transplant. In this case, however, the patient uses their own harvested stem cells (autologous) to reboot their own immune system.
The immune system “forgets” it has Multiple Sclerosis. The course of treatment is acute, over five to six weeks in hospital. This was particularly hard on both Phill and me, as Phill had to return home to Guyra to continue working to support us. I was very weak and lonely during this time, but also determined to be well if possible. Please note: this treatment is not effective for all stages and types of MS, and still not freely available in Australia.
Tell us about how your blog went from a blog to a book?
When I finally came home from the hospital, weeks later, I was overcome with emotion when I reached the outskirts of Guyra.
I then commenced a long and hard climb back to health, beginning slowly to regain my leg strength and balance. During this time, I commenced writing a blog to help others on their health journey. I had an overwhelming amount of people with MS wanting answers and following my progress on Facebook and HSCT webpages. To help others find their way to effective treatment, I began to write the story of my own experience. This became a book, titled Multiple Sclerosis and Hematopoietic Stem Cell transplant; One Patient’s Journey.
Writing a book, especially a personal story, is not a profitable venture. While my book is available on Amazon and can be downloaded to Kindle, I have given away more copies than have been sold. Providing local libraries with a copy is my way of getting the information about this effective treatment process for some types of this debilitating disease out there.
Returning to work must have been a challenge. Tell us what was involved … and what changes have you seen upon your return?
Embracing the Guyra community, I worked as a volunteer at St Vincent de Paul and the local neighbourhood centre, The Hub at Guyra, to provide social contact and give back to my community. For several years I volunteered and was a founding member of the Guyra Community Garden. Late 2016 I applied to return to nursing and was sponsored by Hunter New England Health under a return to work program in Armidale Community Nursing. This was a huge challenge after being out of the workforce for more than five years, and the first few days were nervewracking, to say the least. A large amount of support came from the manager of Ongoing and Extended Care Felicity Wardle to provide the opportunity for me to re-engage under supervision in nursing.
The Armidale Community Nurses team were friendly and inviting, providing much-needed support, education and advice. I’ve enjoyed getting back into the swing of things, meeting the patients and being able to provide both at home and in clinic care. There have been many hurdles and competencies to achieve, but I have made a determined effort. That effort has recently been rewarded with a full return to Registered Nurse Registration with the Australian Health Practitioners Agency (AHPRA) with no restrictions or conditions.
We hear the you have received the “Guyra Citizen of the Year” Award. How did this happen?
I have also been recognised in my local Guyra community, receiving the Australia Day Citizen of the Year Award 2017. This award followed a nomination by the community service and organisations that I had been volunteering with after having to leave employment due to illness. I continue to volunteer when I can (and strongly encourage others to do so too) and am passionate about really being part of your community. The Guyra Community Garden is one of those projects that everyone can be involved in.
Australia should be world leaders in stem cell treatment for autoimmune diseases, not watchers.