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Besa Vlashi

Doing More With MS

Holy Name MS Center - Besa Vlashi

Once in a great while, Besa Vlashi is able to run through the grass. Normally, her legs feel heavy and her foot drops but one clear spring day she felt up to trotting for a minute and seized the opportunity. Besa is 15 years into multiple sclerosis and she refuses to let it define her or stop her from enjoying life.

It hasn't always been this way.

Besa was only 15 when she learned the sudden loss of vision in her left eye was due to MS. At the time, she couldn't fathom the impact the disease would have on her. She thought she would take a few pills and continue her life as a high school student.

"I figured I would go home and be fine - I didn't really understand," Besa said. "Then I found out I would need shots every week and I became depressed. I lived like that for six years, with terrible side effects. I had flu-like symptoms and I felt like I was going to die."

Finally, Besa turned to the MS Society of New Jersey, which recommended she go to Holy Name Medical Center. The hospital has the best regional MS Center in the area. That's when she met Dr. David Duncan, who is board-certified in neurology with additional certification in neurorehabilitation, and specializes in diagnosing and treating MS.

"Dr. Duncan is just amazing - he motivates me and pushes me to do the best I can do," Besa said. "He's always up on the latest research and makes sure I get the medications that will help me the most."

One of those medications is the newly approved drug, ocrevus, which has been shown to reduce the disease's progression. The MS Center at Holy Name was one of the first places in the country to offer ocrevus in clinical trials before its approval from the FDA. When insurance restrictions had delayed Besa from getting the drug, shown to deliver near-miraculous results in relapse rates, Dr. Duncan worked tirelessly to help her get coverage.

As Besa nears her 30th birthday, she is looking forward to taking ocrevus, which produces few, if any side effects. She expects her quality of life to "keep getting better," and vows she will not lose her unflagging optimism.

"After some of my relapses I never came back to full functioning," Besa said. "I used to have 20/20 vision and now it's 40/20. I can't wear heals and I am fatigued a lot. But I'm moving and walking around much more. And I don't use a cane or a brace.

"My norm might not be everyone else's norm but I'm okay with that," she said. "I'm figuring out ways to do things. I just participated in the MS Center's fashion show and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Everyone there was so positive."

Besa loved meeting so many other people with MS at the show. She was amazed how quickly they related to each other on a level not possible with people who don't have the disease.

"They asked what my symptoms are, and understood when I said I always feel fatigued," she said. "Sometimes people without MS think you're lazy because they can't see anything wrong. But these people understood. We make the best of what we have."

So on good days, Besa runs and skips. On not-so-good days, she's still able to practices yoga, meditation and guided imagery.

"I may have MS but I'm in control of it. It doesn't control me."

Learn more about MS Center at Holy Name