Battling multiple sclerosis, Brittny Arnold raising funds for stem cell-type treatment

Matt Hollinshead,

BLANCO — After spending the last eight years trying various avenues to combat multiple sclerosis, Brittny Arnold said she hopes to free herself from the physical effects of MS — for good.

Arnold, the wife of longtime Wines of the San Juan winemaker Josh Arnold, is preparing for a procedure called hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.

The process extracts stem cells from the body before one undergoes chemotherapy, then puts those same stem cells back into the body to help generate a new immune system. If successful, it will essentially reboot her immune system in hopes of eliminating MS from her body altogether.

MS is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack and destroy nerve fiber coverings (or myelin sheaths) in the brain and spinal cord.

Arnold said her treatment is scheduled for Jan. 4, 2021 in Puebla, Mexico, and she has created a GoFundMe page to help pay for the procedure.

Brittny Arnold, right, seen here with her husband Josh Arnold on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, at Wines of the San Juan in Turley, needs to raise $60,000 for HSCT treatment on Jan. 4, 2021 to combat multiple sclerosis. Brittny Arnold was diagnosed with MS in 2012.

“I can only get it done in the winter because I have to have time to recuperate. I can’t really be around a whole lot of people for six months,” Arnold said.

According to a British patient's 2018 testimonial on the MS Society's website, Clinica Ruiz (the facility in Puebla, Mexico) is one of two international locations — the other being in Moscow, Russia — with a good track record for accepting and processing MS patients in a timely manner.

More importantly, according to the testimonial, that clinic is known for spreading out its chemotherapy procedures to include four sessions over two weeks, as opposed to other clinics that administer four sessions over four days.

The first two rounds of chemo would be done during the first week, followed by the extraction of stem cells. When the final two rounds of chemo are done, those same harvested stem cells can be reintroduced into the body after a couple days.

The procedure Arnold seeks has a steep price tag.

She’s trying to raise at least $60,000 — with $57,000 covering the actual treatment, the rest covering costs for plane tickets and a personal caregiver — by Nov. 1. Her deadline to submit the funds is Nov. 4.

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Arnold, the former event planner and advertising/marketing director for Wines of the San Juans, said she has an 85-95% chance she will be completely free of the disease after finishing the treatment.

“It’s something I’ve been mulling over for months,” Arnold, 40, said. “With this treatment, I can get all of my mobility back, basically, and not lose any more. It is not going to get better without something drastic happening.”

For Arnold, this is her next major hope to ending eight excruciating years of living with the disease.

It began on Dec. 14, 2012, at the age of 32, when her right eye went blurry just out of the blue. 

After two separate doctor visits in the Farmington area yielded no answers, Arnold traveled to Denver. There, she was diagnosed with optic neuritis, when one’s optic nerve becomes inflamed, which in turn led to an MS diagnosis.

“Something triggered it to come out, it was probably stress for me,” Arnold said.

Arnold has numbness and tingling in her hands and feet, a numbing sensation going up her right arm and a sensation of having a 20-pound weight on her arm.

She’s had a drop-foot, meaning she can’t move her toes and ends up dragging her foot.

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She also has a lesion on her brain stem because of the damage MS does to one’s spinal column.

Arnold tried a gluten-free diet to help clear her digestive tract, cut sugar out of her diet and started eating more vegetables, anything to eliminate free radicals coursing through her body. 

She also tried taking disease-modifying drugs, which help keep MS from progressing further, but she couldn’t continue doing so because of side effects they had on her immune system.

That all led up to her decision to try the HSCT treatment.

“It halts the MS, it stops it. The lesions don’t progress,” Arnold said. “I want it to stop… I just would rather try something that will actually give me hope that I won’t end up further declining.”

Arnold said the HSCT treatment is available in the United States, but there’s a catch: one must fail at least two DMD tests in a 24-month span. It also costs $200,000 to do the treatment in the U.S.

“You have to wait to get worse before you can get better,” Arnold said. “In 24 months, I don’t know where I’m going to be at… I don’t know what the progression’s going to be like… there is no guarantee that you get back those things that you have lost, but the percentage is much higher if you get it done earlier.”

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“I’m definitely hopeful. All the research that has gone into it, and the testimonies, is uplifting,” Josh Arnold said.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 on Twitter at @MattH_717.

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