• Neurology Patient Stories

    Chicago woman grateful to see Mayo Clinic doctor

Grace Jeffers painting

Treatment for neurological condition restores her vision

Grace Jeffers was happy – really happy – to see her physician, Brian Weinshenker, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist.

Jeffers has neuromyelitis optica (NMO), a rare neurological disorder that attacks cells in the optic nerve and spinal cord. The disease took her vision. At Mayo Clinic, it was restored.

Jeffers’ illness started in 2009 with a backache. Within a week, she couldn’t walk and had lost control of her left side. Jeffers, a Chicago resident, says local physicians believed she had multiple sclerosis (MS). They performed tests and sent blood samples to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, which confirmed she had NMO.

Confused with MS

NMO is often confused with MS. But, unlike MS, NMO symptoms are usually more severe and more likely to leave permanent neurological impairment.

“I was frightened at how quickly this illness came on, and I wondered when it would stop,” says Jeffers.

Jeffers says her physician in Chicago told her that Dr. Weinshenker “wrote the book” on NMO. Jeffers scheduled an appointment at Mayo Clinic. But, in short order, she lost vision in both eyes.

Jeffers spent the next three weeks in Rochester, receiving outpatient care. Dr. Weinshenker first treated her with steroid medication. When her condition didn’t improve, he recommended plasma exchange, in which antibodies are separated out of the bloodstream.

Dr. Weinshenker and colleagues conducted a definitive study in the late 1990s that established plasma exchange as a treatment for acute, severe NMO attacks when steroid medications fail. Jeffers had five plasma exchange treatments over 10 days. Her vision returned, and she regained movement in her left side.

“I woke up after the fourth treatment feeling better, and I could see the Olympics on TV,” she says. “It felt incredible to see again. I finally got to see what Dr. Weinshenker looked like. He’s so caring – just what you think a doctor should be and more.”

Jeffers returned home and began rehabilitation to recover from the nerve damage caused by her initial attacks. Today, she works out at a gym and walks 1.5 miles a day. She still limps and has some numbness but says she keeps improving.

“If you have NMO, there is hope at Mayo Clinic,” says Jeffers. “It’s not the end of the world as long as you’re in the right hands.”

Research to prevent attacks

Jeffers is participating in a clinical trial led by Sean Pittock, M.D., and Dean Wingerchuk, M.D., at Mayo Clinic. She receives an intravenous infusion of the drug eculizumab every other week. The trial is investigating whether this treatment can prevent further attacks.

Jeffers says she is confident that if she has additional NMO attacks, or if plasma exchange stops working, Mayo Clinic will have another treatment. “They don’t rest. They’re always looking for the next best thing,” she says. “I’ve never had care like I had at Mayo. They make you feel like you’re the only patient.”

This article comes from our Sharing Mayo Clinic print publication.

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