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Community / Shetland woman ‘blown away’ after fundraiser secures nearly £10k towards MS treatment in Mexico

A FUNDRAISING campaign has been launched to support a woman originally from Shetland recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis (MS) in her bid to undergo stem cell treatment in Mexico.

Thirty eight year old Heidi Obern, who grew up in Shetland’s south end before moving to the Scottish mainland for college at the age of 21, was given the devastating MS diagnosis just last month.

Her life took a turn for the worse in December when she awoke feeling unsteady. The next day, after a visit to her GP, she found herself unable to walk.

Social work manager Heidi, who lives in Golspie in the Highlands, was then airlifted to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and with the help of steroid infusions she managed to spend the festive period with her family.

“When I got home I noticed in my right eye I couldn’t see any colour,” she added, with more steroids then given.

MRI tests revealed that the root cause was an aggressive form of MS, with Heidi told she is likely to require a wheelchair to meet her mobility needs.

MS is a neurological condition which affects the nerves. It stays with the person, but it can be managed.

There is extra agony in that Heidi was in fine fettle and “living again” when she fell ill, having undergone weight loss surgery last year and shedding 11 stone.

Heidi Obern with her dog Daisy.

She has been informed that stem cell treatment is an option for the MS – something which the NHS cannot provide.

The Clinica Ruiz facility in Mexico, which has carried out more than 3,000 HSCT (haematopoietic stem cell transplantation) procedures, has been pinpointed as a possible provider of such treatment.

Heidi is provisionally booked in for treatment in May.

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But it comes at a significant cost; around £60,000 will be needed in total, which includes the treatment, travel, living expenses and the cost of follow-up medication.

The hope is that the process – which involves chemotherapy and removing and treating stem cells before returning them to the body – would halt the MS, basically giving her a new immune system.

The MS Society says clinical trials have shown that HSCT is able to reduce relapses, and for some people their symptoms stabilise or get better, or their disability improves.

For Heidi there remained a £10,000 funding gap, and her friend Claire Lawson – also originally from Shetland – set up an online fundraising page to try to secure enough donations to send her to Mexico.

But in just ten days more than £9,000 was raised – exceeding everyone’s expectations.

Speaking to Shetland News this week Heidi said she was sadly going through a relapse which has effectively left her housebound.

She said she has been “blown away” by the number of donations made to the fundraising page.

Locally there will also be a family fun fundraising event at the Gulberwick Hall on 7 April.

Heidi said she could not have reached the stage of provisionally booking the Mexico treatment without the support of family, friends and even strangers.

“I’m totally overwhelmed by the amount of kindness and support people all over the world,” she said, especially when times are hard.

“I’ve got quite a huge following on Instagram because of my weight loss journey, so I’ve got people following me from all over the world who have been in contact with me.”

Heidi said one impact of the treatment is that she stands to become infertile, but she plans to freeze her eggs prior to heading to Mexico.

“I feel that I don’t have any control over anything at the moment, and at least then, if I do decide I want to have a child at some point, I have that opportunity to do that,” she added.

Heidi expects to be in Mexico for around four weeks, before spending up to three months in isolation back home.

It will in some ways mirror how she shielded in Covid lockdowns, but she will not be able to lean on her beloved dog Daisy for support.

“My dog, who’s my life, will be in Shetland for that time, because I’m not allowed any contact with animals either after the treatment,” Heidi said.

The current relapse means she expects to be given a wheelchair, as she is beginning to struggle getting about her home using crutches, she might face having to sell her two storey house.

“My mum is down from Shetland just now, because I can’t be on my own, and I’m probably going to moving into the sitting room shortly,” Heidi added.

“I feel like I’m losing a lot just now. There’s a lot of things that I don’t have any control over. The two things I do have control over is the HSCT treatment in Mexico, and the fertility clinic.

“I feel like I need to get a little bit of control back, because of everything else that’s being taken away from me.”

Despite going through the relapse, she said the fundraising campaign has given her something to hang onto.

“It’d be really easy to bury my head in the sand and feel really sorry for myself, but it’s the people that’s taken an interest in this that’s really keeping me going just now,” Heidi said.

“The weight loss surgery saved my life, and I’m not going to let MS destroy it.

“I’m a fighter anyway, I’m not one to back down. I am determined that I am going to beat this.”

People can donate to the fundraiser here.

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