A MOUNT Gambier woman takes extraordinary steps to seek treatment for a degenerative disease in hopes of maintaining her quality of life.
Almost five years ago, Sarah McDowell, a teacher at Tenison Woods College and agility dog competitor, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Although Ms McDowell didn’t let the incurable disease stop her from doing the things she loves, she had to live with the knowledge that it would gradually get worse over time.
After two rounds of chemotherapy failed to stop her MS, she became eligible for a bone marrow transplant – a treatment option that has a high chance of halting MS progression for up to 10 years.
There was just one problem: bone marrow transplants are not readily available in Australia.
“You can’t get one [bone marrow transplant] in Australia unless he stands trial, and to stand trial you have to have failed two treatments, which I have now failed,” Ms McDowell said.
“So I meet the criteria for that, but they say I need a more serious illness and a more serious disability.
“I and many people are not prepared to wait until we are literally in wheelchairs or unable to wash or feed ourselves.”
She said while Australia could potentially follow other countries and make transplant a treatment option here, she doesn’t want to wait that long and risk things getting worse.
Instead, Ms McDowell decided to seek treatment in Mexico, which not only cost her around $95,000 but also caused a lot of anxiety.
“The cost, it’s terrifying to think how much money it costs and how much I have to get out of my house and all that kind of stuff and then fly to Mexico itself, which isn’t the safest city even if they choose pick you up from the airport and take you to the hospital,” she said.
“The fact that we know it’s not a safe city also terrifies me, but at the same time you weigh the positives and the fact that there have been no reports of patients having safety issues there. low and if this treatment works then it should stop my MS and I won’t need any treatment for hopefully 10 years or more.
She said she was determined to go all the way, however, with the support of agility champion-turned-service-dog Cali.
“She just managed to make me feel like I wasn’t going through the treatment journey or the course of the disease alone,” Ms McDowell said.
“All my family is in the UK so I don’t have any support that’s why I have to rely on Cali.”
To help cover the financial side of things, Ms McDowell set up a GoFundMe page called ‘Sarah and Cali beat MS together’ and said anything the community can do to help would go a long way.
She also said that her friends have also done a great job helping her fundraise, which will add up eventually.