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26th May 2016

This MS patient welcomes an uphill climb

Avid mountaineer Ginty Telfer-Wilkes refuses to let multiple sclerosis get in the way of her sky-high pursuits.

Since being diagnosed with the neurological condition last year, Ginty has made it her personal mission to show the world that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) can live life to the full. For her, this means that hiking and climbing in the Scottish highlands near her home are still very much on the cards.

It’s also completely in line with the theme of this year’s World MS Day, which is “MS doesn’t stop me”.

Nobody really knows for sure what causes MS, but it’s believed to happen when a person’s immune system attacks their central nervous system, leaving scarring on the spinal cord and brain. Because there are so many possible symptoms that could also be attributed to other illnesses, it’s not always easy for doctors to spot MS at first.

For Ginty, “it started with numbness up my left leg and into my torso,” she tells This Is Medtech. “I was very lucky that my GP immediately suspected MS and sent me to a neurologist for an MRI scan,” she adds.

Looking at magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) pictures showing cross-sections of the body, a neurologist can identify any scarring. Doctors also rely on other tests, like checks on movement, coordination and vision, as well as analysis of a person’s cerebrospinal fluid in some cases.

After her third MRI scan, Ginty got a definitive diagnosis. “I was in shock for the first few weeks. Then I said: ‘No, I’m not going to let this take over my life. I’m going to show people what you can do with MS.’”

Ginty and her husband Rob, who’s a Mountain Leader, started out with an “easy mountain walk to see how I got on,” she recalls. “On returning home after the hike I decided to post a photo of myself at the summit of Schiehallion on Twitter and the Facebook MS support groups. The response I got was overwhelming,” says Ginty.

This is when she realised that she could help other MS sufferers, which she does by fundraising and awareness campaigns for MS Trust.

Staying positive about the future

Getting diagnosed early meant that Ginty was able to start medication that keeps her MS in check. At the moment, she has relatively mild and infrequent relapses involving fatigue, numbness and a tingling sensation in her fingers. But she’s keenly aware that the future is uncertain.

People with MS can lose mobility as their condition progresses, requiring aids like walkers and wheelchairs. “You can get some awesome wheelchairs. There are even ones that stand you up,” she says cheerily. It’s clear that MS will not be stopping this mountaineer.