There is no cure yet for multiple sclerosis, so how do you fight this debilitating illness? Friday finds out.
battery of tests, including an MRI and spinal tap, he was diagnosed with MS.
Was he scared after the diagnosis, particularly because it was a lesser-known disease?
‘No,’ says Darwaish, his face a picture of calmness. ‘I wasn’t upset or angry or scared. I was very positive and was sure I would be able to overcome this with God’s grace.’
That positivity and optimism would be a major factor in helping him get back on his feet. ‘The doctors in Germany prescribed some medication for me but when I did a bit of research I found that the medicines could have severe side effects; they could ruin the bones, the blood, lead to impotency…’
Instead, he decided to rely on physiotherapy. But once he returned, in 1995, Darwaish found he was not able to move his leg at all. ‘That attack lasted a year,’ he says. ‘Then miraculously I got better. I still don’t know how. I could drive and walk. I guess my regular exercises helped.’
Then last November Darwaish came down with high fever and elevated blood pressure. He also had a relapse of MS and was rushed to Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Once that was treated, he was referred to Amana Healthcare in Dubai where he goes for check ups for his MS. He needs to take an injection a week to keep the disease under control. How has the disease changed his life? ‘In just about every way,’ says Darwaish. ‘MS, unlike a lot of other diseases, affects the entire body because it affects nerves. It destroys your system. All of a sudden you can’t do anything; you get tired easily. But I try to be as active as I can.’
Staying active is one of the best therapies for the condition, say experts.
‘There are many medications called disease-modifying therapies that can reduce the number of attacks and the number of new or active lesions in the brain/spinal cord,’ says Dr Amar. ‘Treatments [can] reduce the disease’s impact on patients and increase their functionality. And physical therapy and rehabilitation is an important part of MS management.’
Darwaish also decided to alter his diet plan. ‘My wife, who has been doing a lot of research online on MS, found a diet that helps reduce symptoms of this disease,’ says Darwaish, who is a consultant for a clutch of companies in Dubai. Called Paleo Diet, it involves eating only organic food; lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and certain types of oils and fats. Grains, milk and milk products, refined sugar, and other processed foods are out.
‘I have around nine cups of veggies a day,’ says the father of one, standing up and taking a few steps without his walker. ‘A woman with MS in the US who has been on this diet says it has helped change her life for the better.’ Now, over a decade since he has been on the diet, and coupled with a generous dose of positivity, Darwaish is able to move around on his own, relying on the walker only infrequently.
Up around 4am, he exercises for a couple of hours including on a treadmill, has his breakfast before dropping his son to school and heading off to office where he helps a few companies with government related procedures.
‘I return by 1pm because heat and sun is bad for MS. It leaves you weak and dehydrated; sun is the first enemy of MS.’
Darwaish is pinning hopes on reports of a new medication that claims to reverse the condition. ‘An injection costs around Dh25,000 but I’m looking forward to it.’
Dr Amar, however, clarifies that there is
Over a DECADE since he has been on the diet, Darwaish is able to move around on his OWN relying on the WALKER only infrequently
no cure for the disease as yet. ‘There is no cure for MS at this time. However, there are many ongoing trials to better understand the disease and find more effective treatments and hopefully a cure for the disease,’ he says.
Meanwhile, Darwaish works on staying active with a passion. ‘I used to run 10km every day. Now I struggle to walk 10m. It can be depressing,’ he says, for the first time a shade of sadness fleeting over his face.
Turning away he gently dabs the corners of his eyes. ‘But when you are connected with God and keep all your hope with him, you can go through it all,’ he says.
Is there a message he has for other sufferers of MS?
‘Stay positive. Be active. Always,’ says Darwaish, the positivity quickly returning to his face and attitude.
‘I often thank God that I don’t have ALS [Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease where the average survival from onset to death is two to four years]. At least I’m alive.’