How I beat MS’: 17 years after being diagnosed, this doctor is symptom-free, thanks to a simple 7-step plan other experts now hail
George Jelinek was 45, a father of three and a professor at the peak of his career when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis
George Jelinek will never forget the day he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
‘It was Sunday, April 19, 1999, at about 4pm,’ he says. ‘In an instant I felt the bottom fall out of my world.
‘I knew exactly how bad MS could get and the news was utterly devastating.’
He was 45, a father of three and a professor of emergency medicine at the peak of his career.
Eighteen years earlier, his wheelchair-bound mother, Eva, worn down by a 16-year losing battle with the same disease, had taken her own life at the age of 58.
Professor Jelinek and his four siblings had only been able to look on helplessly as their mother, in constant pain, had become totally dependent upon others.
His own symptoms first occurred just six days before his diagnosis. He noticed ‘an unusual sensation in the big toe of my left foot’ while at work.
Over the next couple of days, he grew increasingly concerned as the strange numbness spread quickly to his foot and then up his leg.
Even though there was no pain, he assumed he had some kind of back injury, such as a slipped disc.
Looking back, he says: ‘My very first thought should have been “I’ve got MS”. It’s known to run in families, I was the right age and the symptoms were typical. But denial is a wonderful thing.’
By the Sunday, when he finally managed to see a neurologist, the numbness had spread to his waist and he was ‘in a bit of a panic’. But Professor Jelinek was still puzzled when the specialist started talking about MS and his mother.
‘I can recall very clearly the second the penny dropped because it was a massive penny that suddenly fell from the clouds and smashed on the table.’
No one knows what triggers MS, a condition in which the immune system attacks the cells that cover and protect the fibres of the nervous system.
This interferes with the messages between the brain and the rest of the body, causing a wide range of problems, from stiffness and spasms to a devastating loss of basic bodily functions.
There are two main types of MS, which affects three times as many women as men.
‘Relapsing-remitting’, in which new symptoms appear or old ones return for anything from a few hours to days, affects 85 per cent of patients.
With ‘progressive’ MS, symptoms steadily get worse. There is no cure, and while it does not kill, there are risks from complications, such as infections.
Eva Jelinek’s symptoms began soon after she was in a car crash on her way to work as a nurse at a psychiatric hospital.
Thrown through the windscreen, she sustained serious head injuries.
By the time Professor Jelinek went to university, his mother was in a wheelchair ‘and it was becoming pretty clear how awful things were getting’, he recalls.
At the end, ‘she was lucid, intelligent and insightful, but physically unable to care for herself in any way’. However, she did manage to build up a secret stockpile of the barbiturates she was taking daily to help her sleep.
The young George was with his mother the night before she died ‘and I remember she was tearful when I said goodnight, but, of course, I had no idea of the significance’.
When he was told he, too, had the disease, he knew what was coming. ‘I’d lived this diagnosis with my mother. Now that diagnosis was mine and I knew exactly where it was going to take me.’
THE SEVEN STEPS TO BEATING MS
EAT well. Give up meat, dairy and other foods high in saturated fats in favour of a plant-based wholefood diet with seafood, supplemented by 20-30 millilitres a day of omega-3 fatty acids, ideally from flaxseed oil.
EXERCISE regularly. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
GET enough sun and vitamin D. Top up with vitamin D supplements and, if possible, up to 15 minutes of sunlight five times a week.
MEDITATE. Helps to control stress, a trigger for MS relapses.
PROTECT your family. Relatives are at high risk of contracting MS and following the programme can prevent that.
MEDICATION. Continue taking drugs prescribed by your doctor.
CHANGE your life. Make looking after yourself a priority and embrace the programme as ‘a great, new way to live well’.
But that wasn’t where it would take Professor Jelinek.