From time to time I will be interviewing some of the “50 Million Faces” of neurologic disease. Today, we share a conversation with my friend Michelle Rondeau, who has some interesting insights into MS and pregnancy
ADR: Tell us about your MS diagnosis.
MR: My MS symptoms presented initially in the summer of 2003 when I experienced facial and left limb numbness and weakness. After two ER visits to local New Hampshire hospitals, I was given incorrect diagnoses such as Bells Palsy, stroke, or even a heart condition. Eventually, an MRI found five lesions on my brain and there was suspicion that I had MS. I was scared and didn’t know what the future held for me and my family. In fact, I only told a few close family and friends.
After receiving care locally in New Hampshire I began to question if the information and care I was receiving was proactive enough and included the latest and greatest technologies. Thankfully, we have some of the best doctors in the world in Boston I was referred for a second opinion to Dr. Dawson, a senior neurologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.
My final MS diagnosis came in 2004, as I began seeing Dr. Maria Houtchens in the MS Center at BWH.
Throughout my treatment, she carefully managed relapses, was very informative in providing me with the best treatment options, and educated me throughout the process. I was under her care intermittently throughout the years, between MS related issues, MRI screenings, pregnancy attempts and infertility.
ADR: How difficult was balancing your treatment and pregnancy?
My husband Chris and I struggled with having to choose between stopping treatment (not knowing what impact that could have on the progression of my disease long-term), and trying to have children. It was then Dr. Houtchens told me, “You can’t stop living your life because you have MS.” In that moment she empowered me, and I knew she was right.
For several years, I went on and off treatment in the hope of getting pregnant. Fast forward to today, and my husband and I are very fortunate to have four healthy children – ranging in age from 5 to 25.
ADR: How are you doing today? Where are you in your journey with MS?
MR: My last meeting with Dr. Houtchens was in April of 2015. I was able to make it 10 years with little to no disease progression. On that day, she confirmed what we had been hoping for – that my MS had taken a benign course.
After meeting with her and receiving the great news, my first instinct was to never look back and live my life as this experience had never happened.
ADR: You and your husband have been some of the biggest supporters of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Disease. Tell us about how you got involved and the special project you’re working on.
Before I left my last appointment with Dr. Houtchens, she shared that she was working on an important research project that would specifically follow women with MS during and after pregnancy. I learned that this study would take place within the Ann Romney Center and was inspired to learn more about your personal journey with MS! I was impressed with your courage, advocacy, and the important work the center would be doing — how it would be a leader in neurological research.
I immediately thought, what a huge impact this center will have on other women with MS. Hopefully, one day families would not have to experience the same challenges and tough decisions that Chris and I did.
I was truly in awe of your strength, Ann, and at that moment, I looked back on my “flight approach” and was inspired to find that courageous person from within — someone who did not hide from my illness, but someone who got involved and wanted to give back and help others, too.
Today, Chris and I are proud supporters of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases. The pregnancy registry that we directly support now has 85 participants with more entering weekly. Dr. Houtchens mentioned that they are working on a research paper that has stemmed from the data collected. They are also collecting information on diet, habits, exposures, socio-economic status and other aspects of health in all pregnant MS patients. I find this sector of research very interesting and beneficial to the MS community.
As a family impacted by MS, specifically pregnancy in MS, we are confident that the ARCND and its research will help accelerate treatments and prevention, foster collaboration, empower patients, and hopefully one day, find cures for these devastating diseases.