Speaking to a room full of patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), 35-year-old Allison Bryant shared her story of inspiration and triumph and what it’s like to have been given not one – but two miracles.
“For some people, the best day of their lives is the day they get married or have their first child. For me, two days are of equal value as being the best days of my life so far – May 4, 2009 and August 7, 2015. Both of these days involved my walking – with- out any assistive devices – something that for months prior seemed utterly impossible.
(L-R) Malcolm Gottesman, MD, Allison’s physician and Director of NYU Winthrop’s Comprehensive MS Care Center; Allison Bryant; Lorraine Martone, RN, BSN, a nurse who has played an instrumental role in Allison’s care; and Lucia Dispirito, LMSW, who spearheads multiple support groups as well as individual counseling and support services for patients.
I stand before you tonight as proof that anything is possible,” continued Allison, who counts herself “blessed” to be among the patients receiving care at NYU Winthrop’s Comprehensive MS Care Center.
“The Center’s mission is to provide patients with compassionate care and expertise in the rapidly expanding field of MS therapeutics. We are also dedicated to promoting education about the disease and conducting research to develop effective and safe therapies that will diminish the impact of the condition on patients and families and enhance their quality of life,” said Malcolm Gottesman, MD, who is Allison’s physician and Director of NYU Winthrop’s Comprehensive MS Care Center.
Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the body’s central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. For patients with MS, the body’s immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers the nerves, causing interference in the communication between the brain and the rest of the body, and ultimately, in some cases, deterioration of the nerves them- selves. Symptoms of MS range from mild to severe, and can include numbness of limbs, paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable; they may come and go, and they can vary tremendously from one person to another.
Allison Bryant during a recent skiing trip in Colorado.
Over the years, Allison has undoubtedly endured some peaks and valleys in coping with the disease. When she first came to NYU Winthrop in 2008, Allison had been treated with many of the FDA-approved agents without much improvement. Her illness was progressing and she found herself wheelchair-bound. At the time, the then former professional dancer had little hope that she would ever walk again. But Dr. Gottesman felt differently. He knew they hadn’t exhausted all of the treatment options and suggested an aggressive course of therapy involving a drug called Novantrone. “I had never heard about using chemotherapy for the treatment of MS, but I had full trust in Dr. Gottesman and understood that since my MS was particularly aggressive, I needed an aggressive treatment,” she said.
Understanding the risks and side effects, Allison underwent treatment which led to some of the best days of her life – she regained her mobility, was back to dancing, and even opened a dance studio in Huntington, offering free dance and movement classes for children with special needs and for adults with MS. But after three and a half years, spasticity (involuntary muscle spasms) symptoms returned, growing stronger and more frequent, and in December 2014, Allison once again found herself in a wheelchair.
“It was disappointing, but I didn’t let it get me down because I knew I had the most amazing medical team on my side advocating for me,” she said.
Dr. Gottesman considered whether a recently FDA-approved drug, Lemtrada, might be a viable treatment option for Allison. Designed for patients with relapsing MS, this innovative new treatment held promise. Dr. Gottesman consulted with leading experts at the National Institutes of Health, and it wasn’t long before he recommended the new infusible medication to Allison as the next course of therapy.
“NYU Winthrop was the first program on Long Island to administer this medication; we also participated in the research trial,” said Dr. Gottesman.
With much support from Dr. Gottesman and the clinical team at NYU Winthrop’s MS Care Center, including Lorraine Martone, RN, BSN, and Lucia Dispirito, LMSW, Allison received the first of five consecutive treat- ments of eight hours each on April 6, 2015 at NYU Winthrop’s Adult Hematology/Oncology Infusion Center, in close collaboration with the team of clinicians there.
Weeks of intensive daily physical therapy at an inpatient rehabilitation center followed. Along with that, Allison displayed renewed determination and hope that she would soon be able to claim her second miracle. On August 7, 2015 – with a team of medical professionals cheering her on – she did just that. Allison walked once again.
Allison Bryant tries
her hand at doing the trapeze.
“I never lost hope and neither did Dr. Gottesman,” she said.
Allison astonished her NYU Winthrop care team when she walked into their office soon after being discharged from the rehab facility.
“I was on the phone with another patient when I was informed that there was someone there to see me,” recalled Ms. Martone, who has played an instrumental role in Allison’s care. “As I turned, there was Allison running down the hall towards me! Tears flowed as we hugged each other and overwhelming feelings of happiness and accomplishment flooded our souls. Of course, Allison never forgot the words we exchanged many times before and that was – ‘It’s important to believe. Believe in your care team and believe in yourself!’”
Today, Allison is back to teaching pro- fessional dance at her studio in Huntington and is working on a book that not only shares her story of hope, but provides modified exercises for patients with varying degrees of MS. She has also discovered a newfound confidence, trying activities she may not have considered before such as zip lining, white water rafting and skiing.
“I never lost hope. And neither did Dr. Gottesman.”
An ambassador for the MS Foundation, Allison won’t let MS, or thoughts of future challenges she may face, get in the way of pursuing her dreams, which include to one day appear on the ABC hit television show “Dancing with the Stars.” She recently underwent her second infusible treatment of Lemtrada and is confident that no mat- ter what comes her way in the weeks and months to come, she will never stop fighting.
“My life is not limited by MS,” she said. “I got my miracles. And I know if there is ever another bump in the road, I have a great care team at NYU Winthrop who will help me through.”
Allison Bryant undergoes her second treatment of Lemtrada.