WHEN Lisa Sheehan first noticed the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, she put them down to the rigours of her night work as a community carer. By the time she was diagnosed, aged 45, she was in the third stage of her illness.
"I had a tingling sensation in my left leg. I would run to the buzzer in the nursing home and when I was coming back to the nurses station I would see skid marks from my shoes where my toe was dragging as I ran - even though I had no sensation of my foot dragging, I had gotten so used to it," Mrs Sheehan said.
"Most women get diagnosed when they are much younger and can start treatment at the first stage. Most treatments are only for that stage of MS."
The first treatments Mrs Sheehan tried were unsuccessful, leading her MS community nurse Helen Sikkens to recommend the new kid on the block: an oral tablet called fingolimod, which had shown promise in trials.
Thanks to the co-ordinated efforts of Ms Sikkens and the Grafton Base Hospital, this new treatment is now available to Mrs Sheehan in her home town. The service is likely to benefit others in the community who would otherwise have to travel to Coffs Harbour or Newcastle.
"I probably know of about five more (MS patients in the area) who will progress to that treatment in the next 12 months," said Ms Sikkens.
To admit Mrs Sheehan, the staff in the hospital's day surgery had to get training in the drug's effects and its needs post-treatment, including observation.
It opens up new options for patients in the catchment area to have the treatment here rather than them having to travel. Mrs Sheehan said: "If Grafton couldn't have provided it for me I would have had to have gone back up to the Gold Coast to the neurologist's offices or to the Gold Coast Hospital and take the tablet and come home - it was a six hour trip to take a tablet. Seeing as I don't have a healthcare card it becomes expensive. My husband would have had to take another day off work to take me."