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Nicholas Urbina

From Thoughts of Death to a Normal Life

Holy Name MS Center - Nicholas Urbina

Nicholas Urbina was a senior in high school when he thought he was going to die, probably soon. He had been sick for months - with numbness, double vision, vomiting and vertigo - and he was so weak he couldn't get out of bed.

"I was definitely scared," Nicholas said. "I couldn't put into words what was going on but I definitely thought it was the end for me. I thought I was dying and I could see my parents were so scared."

Nicolas landed in several hospitals, often drifting in and out of consciousness. He couldn't go to school - he needed physical help from his mother, father or brother just to get out of bed. Finally, a spinal tap revealed Nicholas had multiple sclerosis.

"The diagnosis didn't scare me - I was glad and relieved they pinpointed what was wrong with me," he said. "But it was still a slow road to recovery."

Soon after his diagnosis, Nicholas' brother heard about Holy Name Medical Center's MS Center, now known as The Alfiero & Lucia Palestroni Foundation Multiple Sclerosis Center. It is recognized as a leader in MS care and is one of a select few multiple sclerosis centers in the region-and the only facility in Bergen County, New Jersey—to be affiliated with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Nicholas saw Dr. Mary Ann Picone, Medical Director of the Center, and slowly started getting his strength back as his symptoms subsided. He remembers the day he went back to school for the first time - it was his birthday, February 24, 2010. He was in a wheelchair but happy to be there.

"It was a huge flood of emotions - I hadn't seen anyone in months," he said. "I also went to my prom and my graduation in a wheelchair. I was glad to see everyone's faces and it was my way of saying hey, I'm fine. I'm here."

Still, Nicholas had his dark days. There was a point when he told his father, "I'm never going to get out of this chair. I'll never walk again."

Indeed, his progress was snail-paced. Eventually he was able to walk again, but he was in a wheelchair for three years. He regained his strength in small, incremental ways over the years but for a long time he needed an injection every three days. A family member had to administer it and this made him feel trapped - he couldn't travel. Yet he could feel his body recovering.

"Dr. Picone was a huge help, to me and my family," Nicholas said. "I wouldn't be where I am today if not for her and the staff at Holy Name. I know them and they know me. I'm not just some guy showing up - we've built a relationship and they give me great care."

Then in early 2017, Nicholas had a monumental shift in his life. Dr. Picone put him on ocrevus, a life-changing infusion medication that slows the progression of some types of multiple sclerosis and puts the disease in remission for many patients. For Nicholas, one infusion every six months has brought him newfound freedom.

"Overall, I feel great," he said. "I'm not your typical 26-year-old, running and jumping but between 1 and 100, I'm a solid 90. I walk every day, hang out with my friends."

Nicholas also works as a physical therapy aide. After receiving so much care and attention for years, he knew he wanted to work in a field where he could give back.

"Some patients feel so down and I can tell them that I was in a lot worse condition and look at me now," he said. "I can be part of a support system for them and I know how important that can be."

Nicholas still goes for physical therapy himself. Balance is an issue, and he said it probably always will be. "But from everything I've experienced, I'm fine with that. I live a pretty normal life right now, especially considering what I went through."

Learn more about MS Center at Holy Name