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“My neurologist tried to talk me out of having HSCT”

Scott at Hammersmith Hospital.JPGWe catch up with former Gogglebox star Scott McCormick after he underwent HSCT treatment  

I knew nothing about haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) treatment. It was my wife Georgia who first stumbled across it when she found a Facebook group called UK HSCT for MS and autoimmune diseases. She was apprehensive about telling me, because I can be feckless… apparently.

As soon as I heard about it, I was sold. The statistics made sense – to have the treatment meant an 80 per cent chance of it working, to not have HSCT meant a 100 per cent chance of still having multiple sclerosis (MS), and getting worse. I made the decision in a split second, and my eyes were already fixed on the recovery.

The struggle to get it

I asked my neurologist in Peterborough Hospital about HSCT and he immediately started to try and talk me out of it. Eventually, after much persistence, I was referred to Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge several months later, but was again met with resistance.

There, I was offered more new drugs, but continued to ask to be considered for HSCT. Again, the neurologist tried to talk me out of it by saying how hard it is to get, and that I'd be better off with the pharmaceutical offerings (I swear they are on commission).

Eventually, after much research, Georgia found Dr Victoria Singh-Currie at Charing Cross Hospital in London, who I feel has been the single most proactive, forward-thinking neurologist I have met. When we spoke, she was not shy in telling me my chance of getting HSCT was still very remote, and that I was so close on several aspects of the requirements to not qualifying at all. But, with a letter from Georgia detailing what was going on with me, she agreed to put me forward to the board in the following January.

There was not much hope of me getting through, mostly due to my having had MS for 13 years by now, as well as only having tried two different drugs.

What ensued was a very long drawn out battle which, fortunately, I won, and I was granted the treatment.

It began

As far as nerves go, I felt none. If anything, I was excited. My family knew I would be fine, but I am positive they were worried, so very worried – it is my wife’s speciality, after all.

Having been in war zones six times in my RAF career, going into a hospital where highly trained and hugely competent people want to see you walk out of the door did give me enormous confidence in the HSCT process.    

The stem cell generating machine at work.jpgThe treatment in its entirety is extremely complex and time consuming for all. Firstly, the stem cells are stimulated and extracted. This saw me issued with some mild chemotherapy at Hammersmith Hospital, then sent home with more drugs to inject into my spare tyre around my substantive belly for a week. 

I then returned to Hammersmith Hospital to have my stem cells separated from my blood and put on ice to preserve them for use later, once the heavy chemo and the anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) had destroyed my currently defective MS immune system.

After this, I was issued my date for treatment. I was supposed to go in on the 10th June, but I got a cold and was referred for two weeks until I was over it. You can't go in to HSCT with any virus or bugs at all. They would cause many serious complications at a very hazardous time.

Soon the day came for the treatment, and I was admitted to Hammersmith Hospital. On the first day, I met the doctors and nurses who would be looking after me, and as for my treatment, I was told to expect the worst I could imagine, and then some.

Check back on the MS-UK blog on Monday 27 January 2020 to read part two of Scott’s story!