Season 4 of Four Senses, my cooking show, currently airs on AMI TV

Since winning MasterChef U.S. Season 3 in 2012, I’ve gone on to co-host my own cooking show. Our studio shoot is in Toronto, which gives me the chance to visit with Jenna at least once a year.

Something of which a lot of people may not be aware is that a TV show’s shoot schedule is often highly intense and squeezed in to a short amount of time. One season of Four Senses, for example, is thirteen 30-minute episodes. We shoot two episodes a day (each one taking about 4 hours to shoot), and we film them all in seven days straight. The reason for this is it’s often very expensive to rent studio space and film equipment, plus everyone on cast and crew are contractors that have other work projects scheduled, so a producer can only snag people for X amount of time.

Many people I meet assume we are shooting each episode the day before it airs, or sometimes, people even think it’s live television (like in the case of MasterChef, people would meet me in the street while it was airing and be confused why I wasn’t in the kitchen that day).

There’s a whole different world called “television.”

I can’t believe it’s been five years since my season of MasterChef shot and aired, and four years since I started Four Senses, a cooking show with an accessible twist. Season 4 is currently airing on AMI TV in Canada on Thursdays at 7:30 PM ET/PT, but if you miss an episode or don’t live in Canada, you can catch the episodes online at AMI’s Four Senses website.

Happy watching and cooking!

Jan 2017
POSTED BY Christine

Patient Profile: Courtney Engel

In this week’s Patient Profile we want to highlight Courtney Engel. Many of us may have also met her Mom, Christine Kryshak, at NMO (neuromyelitis optica) patient days in the past. Courtney is a Mom herself, a music teacher, a wife and also a patient advocate. She shared her personal thoughts on vision loss, music and relationships.

  1. NMO stats (diagnosed since, number of attacks, treatment centre, age if you’ll disclose).

In August of 2008, I started losing vision in my left eye.  It began as a single dark line at the top of my vision field, but as time progressed, the darkness increased.  It was like someone was pulling a shade down on my eye sight.  I went to my eye doctor & then to an eye specialist in my hometown of Wausau, WI.  They diagnosed it as a “simple” case of optic neuritis & told me that my vision would return on its own in time, as I was still young.  (I was 28 at the time.)  A month went by with no improvement.  The vision in my left eye went completely dark.

My mom was able to get me a referral to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester that November.  After several appointments, I was diagnosed with NMO.  I received the diagnosis via a phone call while at work.  The neurologist made it sound like it was a common thing & that it wasn’t a big deal.  Boy was he wrong!  Maybe he just didn’t want me to panic, but I feel that he was dishonest with me.

I began plasmapheresis at Mayo in January of 2009  in hopes of recovering some of my left-eye vision loss.  Nothing came back, and I returned home.

My next major NMO attack occurred during a 6th grade orchestra concert I was directing. This would be early February of 2009.   I was up on stage, and I noticed that the stage lights were dimming.  The music became a bit blurrier.  I couldn’t panic, as I had 60+ students on stage that I was responsible for.  However, when I woke up the next morning, my world was in complete darkness.  I had lost all vision in my right eye now, too.

More plasmapheresis.  This time I did it more locally, but the instructions came from Mayo.  I was treated at the Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, WI.  Having gone through a month of treatment, I did manage to regain most of my right-eye vision.  I was about a week away from returning to work when another NMO attack occurred, and my world went black once more.  I completed another few weeks of plasmapheresis at Marshfield, but this time only some of my right-eye vision returned.

Since that awful winter of 2009, I’ve only experienced minor vision loss in the right-eye on two separate occasions – after receiving my first Rituxan treatment (this was before the doctors knew we should be doing solumedryl prior to the treatment) and again after I had a bad case of the flu.  I explain to people that my vision is like looking through a frosted window.  I can see colors & outlines, but everything in between is pretty blurry.  I cannot read without the use of magnification equipment, and I no longer drive.

I have been very blessed to have had no major NMO attacks for the past seven years.  The doctors now feel that I have the NMO spectrum disorder, as I only get NMO attacks that affect my vision.  I do experience the other NMO symptoms often, though – fatigue, body aches, headaches, etc.  I undergo IVIg infusions every four months to help boost my immune system.  I also get treated with Rituxan every six months.  These treatments seem to be doing the trick – – at least for now.


  1. We know you’re a school teacher. Tell us about what you do.

I am a full-time orchestra teacher at the middle school level.  I have a 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, & auditioned advanced ensemble to direct.  There are about 160 students enrolled in my program.  It’s an extremely busy but fulfilling occupation.  The 6th graders are beginners, so I am starting them from no knowledge of playing a stringed instrument.  I teach them in small group settings & in large group rehearsals.  There are also about six concerts each school year.  I find concerts to be a bit stressful.  This job is one of the few teaching jobs that puts students on the stage to display what they have learned.

I also teach three private violin students on my weekends.  I really enjoy doing the private lessons, as this gives me the opportunity to work with older students & more challenging repertoire.

  1. Music has such healing properties. How has it helped you since your NMO diagnosis?

Music has been both healing & detrimental to my healing process.  I began playing violin when I was four years old.  By the time I was in college, I had travelled to Vancouver, Cape Cod, Austria, & France to participate in chamber music experiences.  During my first few years of teaching, I was a member of a semi-professional symphony orchestra.  I frequently participated in pit orchestras for community musicals, too.  But since I lost my vision, the performing has pretty much come to a halt.  I have not, yet, found assistive equipment which allows me to read & scroll enlarged music while playing the violin at the same time.  I have a CCTV which allows me to magnify my music, but after each measure, I need to put down my violin & scroll the music over with my hand.  This doesn’t give me the satisfaction of continuous play.  Anything I want to play on my violin needs to be memorized.  As violin playing was such a huge part of my life (pretty much for my entire existence), this left a huge hold in me, because it was suddenly taken away.

During the summer of 2010, I decided to put on a solo violin recital to help raise money for NMO.  Since I had summer vacation (& this was before my son was born), I had lots of time to practice violin.  I spent about three hours each day working on the repertoire, which I found extremely fulfilling for my soul.  I poured my heart into my notes, & I found it to be therapeutic.  The recital occurred in August of 2010.  There are a few video clips of my performance on my FB page.  I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to listen to me perform & to support me in my cause.  I managed to raise $13,000 which was donated for NMO research.

I am hoping to do another violin recital this coming summer.  I am already looking forward to working on the music.

  1. You’re a working mom who also lives with NMO. How do you balance it all, especially on bad days?

I have a four-year-old son named Caleb.  He is the best thing that has ever happened to me.  Caleb is a ball of non-stop energy.  It’s becoming more & more difficult to keep up with him.  I miss those baby days when I could just sit there and snuggle!

I have an incredibly supportive and understanding husband.  So when he’s around on “bad days,” I can always rely on him to take over while I recuperate.  When I find myself alone on “bad days,” we try to do quiet activities, such as reading books, doing puzzles, or watching movies.  Caleb is still awfully squirmy and doesn’t like to sit still for too long.  However, he is also getting old enough to understand that I have these rough days & that I need my rest.  A lot of the time he is content with me resting on the couch & watching him play on his own.  Though, it is heartbreaking when he is in tears or upset, because I can’t run around with him.

  1. Having a successful pregnancy while having NMO is a hot topic in our community. Tell us about your experience and give us your advice.

I wouldn’t exactly say my pregnancy experience was successful.  It was a very difficult journey for me, & the doctors are still not sure if this was due to NMO or other factors.  During my first pregnancy, I had a miscarriage at 24 weeks.  My baby girl had some heart issues & my placenta never grew to the necessary size to nourish my baby.  I was a complete mess after the loss of my baby girl.

A year later we were blessed with our son, Caleb.  During the first trimester, everything was going successfully.  I had been put on Lovonox injections to assist with growth of the placenta & that was doing the trick.  It was a super exciting time in my life.  Many of my NMO symptoms dissipated while pregnant – I experienced less body aches and headaches.  My vision also seemed to have slightly improved.

Everything was fine up until my sixth month of pregnancy.  I contracted enormous respiratory issues which turned out to be pneumonia that just wouldn’t go away.  I was coughing non-stop day and night.  My ribs were fracturing from all of the aggressive coughing. One of my x-rays showed that I had 13 broken ribs at the same time.  Broken ribs are painful enough.  Add a pregnancy and a kicking baby was excruciating! Obviously, I couldn’t take any pain medication, so I just had to suffer it out.  Ice packs helped a tiny bit.  After eight weeks of pneumonia, my OB decided it was best to have an emergency C-section.  A few days after my C-section, I completed a Rituxan treatment.  I was told by doctors that you are most prone to NMO attacks right after delivering, and I certainly didn’t want to risk that!

Caleb was born at 31 weeks.  He was a healthy baby.  He stayed in the NICU for five and a half weeks, but this was mostly due to the fact that he was so small.  He was born at 2.11 lbs.  He had to reach five pounds, be able to feed off of a bottle, and pass the car seat test, before we were able to take him home.  So, we were just waiting for him to grow.  We are blessed that Caleb continues to be a normal, healthy toddler.

My advice to pregnant NMO patients or those who want to become pregnant is to seek out a great network of doctors who will work together.  My neurologist at Mayo (Dr. Pittock) and my OB (Dr. Mascola) were constantly in contact with each other about my pregnancy.  My OB was a specialist in high-risk pregnancies, & I therefore had more examinations than the average pregnant woman.  This turned out to be an advantage, as I had many opportunities to see my baby boy through ultrasounds.

I also feel that it was important for me to speak with my doctor before attempting my pregnancy.  My neurologist told me that I should get a final Rituxan treatment and then wait six weeks before attempting.  At this time, I was told that it was not ideal to be treated with Rituxan while pregnant, so we were building up my defense against an NMO attack during the pregnancy.  I was also not on IVIg at this point.  I did, however, take oral prednisone, which does not cross through to the baby.  I believe following this regiment assisted in keeping me NMO-attack-free while pregnant.  Everyone’s health works differently, & it is critical to follow your doctor’s instructions.  I am grateful that I had a strong team between my neurologist and my OB.

  1. Personal relationships can be tough in the best of circumstances. What advice do you have for NMO patients to manage relationships of all types (love, children, family, friends)?

I married my husband, Jake, before I got sick with NMO.  We were married for two months before my first optic neuritis attack.  I feel like we actually grew closer, due to NMO.  We know we need to be strong for each other & for our son.  When I was in undergoing my plasmapheresis, Jake stayed by my side as often as he could.  When I lost my vision completely, he would read to me.  He read the complete Twilight series & Hunger Games series aloud to me during treatments.  He was not a fan of Twilight at all, but he did it for me, & I love him even more for doing that!  To this day, he continues to read aloud to me when I am hospitalized or sick at home.  I love spending this quality time together.  Jake also knows me well enough to not even have to ask how I’m feeling.  He can often detect if it’s a good day or a bad day by observing my behavior.  When it’s a bad day, I can always count on him to step up & take over the extras.

I really don’t know where I’d be today, if I hadn’t met Jake prior to NMO.  I think it would be very scary to put myself out there knowing that at some point I would have to disclose my disease & my visual impairment.  I would worry if I would be accepted with those flaws & how supportive that person would be.  Words cannot express how thankful I am for the loving & supportive husband I have.

My friends & family are concerned about my health, but to be honest, they haven’t been as supportive as I would have liked them to be.  My Mom has been amazing & has been by my side through everything.  However, my health has also made many people feel uncomfortable.  They didn’t know how to deal with what I was going through.  They didn’t know what to say when they saw me or what to do to make my life easier – – so they didn’t do anything.  They thought that by leaving me alone, I was finding time to recover & rest.  However, I saw it as abandonment, and this is something I am still trying to get over with to this day.

I shouldn’t say all of my friends and relatives are like this.  I do have a few who have been extremely supportive, too. My Mom is amazing. She has been with me every step of the way. She’s the one who helped me get diagnosed correctly with the Mayo referral. She goes to all of my appointments and most of my treatments as well. I could not have gotten through all of this without her!

  1. What keeps you personally motivated and what keeps you fighting?

My son.  I live for my son.  Even now while thinking about him and the joys he adds to my life is bringing tears to my eyes.  I love the way he hugs me.  I love that he is a constant chatterbox.  I love that he puts plastic cups over his ears in the bathtub when I’m washing his hair.  I love when he says “Mama.”  I love watching him create traffic jams with his cars and build car dealerships with his legos.  I just can’t get enough of this kid!

My teaching is also a huge motivator in my life.  I am very invested in my job & enjoy going in to work every single day (except for in-services!)  Music is and always will be my passion & to have the opportunity to share this with all of my students is a blessing.

  1. Tell us a moment when NMO embarrassed you (if ever).

I get frustrated with my vision loss.  I have to have my husband double check my make up –  that I didn’t leave smudges, etc.  I struggle telling the difference between colors, such as navy blue & black.  I once went to school with navy blue pants on that didn’t go with my top at all.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t mismatch day, either.  If I have a food stain or toothpaste on my clothing, I am unaware & therefore walk around like that all day.  On school field trips, I might walk into a door or stumble on nothing in front of my students.  I think that’s the worst part – is fumbling due to vision in front of my students.

  1. What do you think needs to be the next steps in finding a cure for NMO?

At my last Mayo appointment, I asked about the advances in NMO research.  It sounded like researchers are more interested in finding better maintenance treatments than finding a cure.  I was a bit disheartened by this information.  I think that the doctors need to collaborate more on the global level.  I often hear new research ideas or treatments from the UK & other countries & wonder how often this information is shared with my own doctors.  This is a global issue that can be solved with many minds put together.  I will also continue doing my part in making people aware of the need for an NMO cure.

  1. Finish this sentence. Courtney is _____________.

a wife, a mother, a teacher, a musician – I do not let NMO define who I am.

Jan 2017



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

To each and every one of you in our NMO (neuromyelitis optica) family we wish you much love, happiness and mostly good health as we all get through the busy holiday season and start off 2017.

Over the year we’ve enjoyed sharing tales of our travels, patient advocacy, career successes, and our challenging health situations. Thank you for your emails, comments, Facebook messages, but most importantly your support.

In the coming year, NMODiaries plans to include more content that we know has been popular with our readers.

  • We’ll showcase more patient and advocate profiles so our readers discover others that we can all identify with.
  • We’ll return back to more vlogs so we can share more of what our day to day looks like.
  • We’ll investigate more alternative health practices that we know other patients want to consider.

The holiday season can be cold and stressful, which might be why we hear of a lot more patients flaring during this time of year. Take care of yourselves, be patient and kind to what you need to stay healthy.

With much love,

Jenna, Erin, Christine, and Lelainia

Dec 2016



Patient Profile: Grace Mitchell

We are starting a series titled, Patient Profile, to highlight other ambitious individuals living with NMO (neuromyelitis optica). We want to share their stories as examples of how we’re in this together.

Today we feature Grace Mitchell, which many of you know as our Facebook patient page moderator.

1. NMO stats (diagnosed since, number of attacks, treatment centre, age if you’ll disclose).

I first became ill in April of 2005, when I was 52 years old.  I had gone  to bed one evening after work, and awoke the next morning to find myself paralyzed and without bowel or bladder control.  I was taken to the local hospital, where lab tests and an MRI were performed.  Unfortunately the MRI was only of the lumbar spine (my very large lesion was in the thoracic spine)  and the on call physician was unable to find a cause for my loss of function, informing me that it was likely hysterical paralysis caused by conversion disorder.  By the next morning the paralysis had moved up my chest, and I was ambulanced to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where I was initially given a diagnosis of Idiopathic Transverse Myelitis.  After several weeks in the hospital and a subsequent stay in a rehab facility, I was finally able to come home.  Roughly eight weeks out of rehab, I again found myself paralyzed and was sent back to the University of Pittsburgh, at which time my case was handed over to Dr. Rock Heyman, Chief Division of Neuroimmunology/MS, who diagnosed me via the Mayo Clinic’s NMO IgG test.  He’s been my neurologist since that time, and has gone above and beyond for me.

2. You’re known as a leader in the NMO community. When did you first get involved and how?

At the time of my diagnosis, there were only about 800 documented cases of NMO in the US, so I immediately set out looking for other patients.  I was lucky enough to be contacted by Tim Mulvihill whose partner had also been very recently diagnosed.  We spoke on the phone for about six hours that first night, and by the end of that first phone call had decided to start an advocacy group for fellow patients.  We didn’t want it to be simply a support site, rather we wanted to actively and tangibly impact the patient experience in a positive way.  The only way to do that was to first educate ourselves about the disease, so we dove into what scant research there was available, and also started contacting physicians and members of the research community.  I am not  exaggerating whenever I say that our lives immediately became as busy as Grand Central Station.   The patient response was incredible.

3. Because of the nature of your work as a moderator we know you’ve become close to so many patients. Knowing about their individual hardships with NMO, how do you stay positive and impartial on a daily basis?

It’s so very difficult to remain in a positive frame of mind when dealing with fellow patients who are often very frightened, and sadly, profoundly disabled.  Because I have worked so hard to build my credibility with the wonderful researchers of this disease, and because they in turn have always been so kind to me, I work very hard to handle myself in a professional manner, despite not being a professional.  That being said, I often find myself in tears after speaking with a fellow patient who is desperate for help.  It’s a very emotional experience.

4. We want to know more about who Grace is. Tell us about your day to day activities including your hardships with NMO.

My personal identity has become so entwined with NMO that it’s hard to see where the disease ends, and I begin.  It’s so important for me to keep my mind vital and alert, so in my spare time I read anything and everything that I can get my hands on.  Science, history, politics, and biography, books and articles are my personal favorites though I do read a bit of fiction (it’s a wonderful escape).  I also enjoy listening to music in my spare time, with blues (particularly old Delta blues) and classic rock being my favorites.  Physical activities are difficult for me these days due to the intense fatigue that often comes along with NMO.  Just an outing to the grocery store wears me out and puts me to bed, so chilling at home with a good book and my cat has become my favorite activity, with the exception of spending time with my beautiful little 4 year old granddaughter.


5. Personal relationships can be tough in the best of circumstances. What advice do you have for NMO patients to manage relationships of all types (love, children, as a grandparent, family, friends)?

Managing any type of relationship is difficult when also dealing with a chronic disease. Often, family, friends, and significant others, don’t understand the physical limitations that accompany an NMO diagnosis. Whenever I say that I am tired, it’s not the same kind of tiredness and fatigue that a healthy person might experience after putting in a hard day at work, rather it’s an overwhelming feeling of total exhaustion that isn’t necessarily remedied with a nap, or even a full night’s sleep. My advice to other patients is to give as much as they can to their relationships, but to know their personal limits. Another important thing to remember is that as patients, we can’t expect others to *own* our illness. The world doesn’t stop just because we are ill. Most of our family and friends are sincere in their efforts to understand our situations, but because they have not experienced it themselves their understanding is limited, and that’s not their fault.  Sometimes, we as patients need to take a step back and realize that the world does not revolve around us simply because we have a chronic illness.  Does that sound harsh? Maybe, but it’s the truth as I know it.

6. What keeps you personally motivated and what keeps you fighting?

That’s an easy one to answer, my desire to be of help to my fellow patients.  Whenever it’s all said and done, we’re all in this together.

7. Tell us a moment when NMO embarrassed you (if ever).

You know, despite NMO being a difficult disease to deal with, it does have it’s humorous moments. Shortly after my second bad attack whenever I became able to walk a bit in my walker, I got a ride to my local pharmacy to drop off some prescriptions.  As I exited the car, I got that painful burning rush that always precedes a bout of tonic spasms, and before I knew it the pain hit me and I was lying on the pavement. Now, if you’ve ever experienced tonic spasms, you’re fully aware that they’re not the old garden variety charley horse, rather they’re screaming pain, and I do mean screaming and I WAS screaming.  So there I was, lying there on the sidewalk with my shoe off, my right leg all bent askew, my arms stiff as boards, my right ear pulled down to my shoulder, my mouth wide open, and all the while I was screaming for help.  Several pedestrians came and stood around me, but not one would intervene (I think I probably scared them to death).  Finally, out of the pharmacy marched my very favorite cashier who told the people to move along that there was nothing to see there, and scooped me up and helped me limp into the store.  Talk about being embarrassed!

8. In your opinion, what needs to change about the medical system, the NMO community and the pharmaceutical industry?

Whenever it comes to our medical system, I think that the biggest issue for NMO patients is the fact that most general neurologists are not educated about the disease.  If you’re lucky like me, you’re seen at a large teaching and researching facility, but unfortunately that’s not feasible for many patients who end up having to depend on neurologists in rural areas, and to utilize facilities that are less than stellar.  As for the pharmaceutical industry, they are both friend and foe.  I hear patients complain all of the time saying that the pharmaceutical companies have cures that they don’t want to share due to financial gain.  I do not think that’s the case.  Patients don’t understand the enormous amount of time and money that goes into developing a drug, nor do they understand the red tape that must be waded through to get a drug to clinical trial.  If trial results are satisfactory, the next step is getting FDA approval and that’s not something that’s instantaneous, in fact it can take years.  Then there is the fact that some of the drugs that we use are exorbitantly expensive and the insurance companies are reluctant to cover them, meaning that  patients must jump through hoops and are often denied several times before the treatment is finally approved by the insurance company—if it is approved at all.  On the other hand, if not for these pharmaceuticals many of us would be in much worse shape than we currently are.  It’s a case of six of one and a half dozen of the other.

9. What do you think should be the next steps in finding a cure for NMO?

As for one day finding a cure, my feeling is that the cure will come via the amazing research that is currently being  conducted concerning tolerization.  The whole concept is huge for NMO research.  While it’s unlikely to occur during my lifetime (I’m not a spring chicken anymore), I do believe that it will happen, and that will be an amazing day.

10. Finish this sentence; Grace is ___________.

Grace is determined.

Dec 2016



Support NMO research today on #GivingTuesday

Thursday was Thanksgiving. Then we had Black Friday, followed by Cyber Monday. Today, instead of overeating and overspending in the spirit of gluttony and consumerism, why not donate to a good cause in the spirit of selfless giving?

#GivingTuesday is your chance to make a difference this holiday season. It’s a way to remember how blessed we are by supporting a cause that could benefit from our donations, whether in time or money.

Of course, since this is a blog about Neuromyelitis Optica/NMO, I urge you to support the Guthy Jackson Charitable Foundation this #GivingTuesday. All of the proceeds donated to the GJCF will be used to fund research for treatment and an eventual cure for this debilitating disease that affects all of us here at NMO Diaries.

To support the effort today, please visit the Guthy Jackson Foundation #GivingTuesday page, and be sure to reference #GivingTuesday with your donation.

Thank you from all of us at NMO Diaries, and spread the word!

The Holiday Season is Here!

As I am gearing up for the next few weeks it’s going to be very busy time. First I would like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! We are traveling to Kansas to see my husband’s family this year for 4 days. This time of the year just seems like chaos for everyone till after New Year’s. As NMO patients this can be challenging for us trying to keep up with everything and trying to take of ourselves. I know for me this time of year is very exhausting and for that I need to thank Starbucks since I will be visiting them everyday till after New Year’s.  Once we get back from Kansas I will be decorating the house for Christmas. I am one of those weird people that put up four Christmas trees because I love Christmas trees! Also it’s that time of the year for Elf on the Shelf to appear and this year we are having another elf joining our elf Buddy I love doing elf on the shelf even though I stress about it too much some times. The look on Allen’s face is just worth it every morning when he is looking for Buddy. The following weekend we are staying downtown for one night and will be watching the Christmas lights parade. Then it will be my 35th birthday which I am absolutely dreading to me that means I am 5 years closer to being 40. I think I will have a hard time with that one well I know I will. I recently watched that movie “This is 40.” Yes I will be like her and will be celebrating my 38th birthday for several years. Four days after my birthday I will be doing my Rituxan which we all know that’s a party in its self. Which means I will not be feeling well for a couple weeks. The next thing on my schedule is my husband’s company Christmas party. Which means Eric and I will be wrapping about twenty gifts for the Christmas party gift raffle. Also squeezing in wrapping all the gifts for the kids and family members. I am hoping I will have time to do Christmas cookies with the kids. Started this tradition with Allen ever since he was a baby. Alana was not into it last year but I think this year she will be more into it. Well at least eating the frosting out of the bowl when I am not looking. Then before I know it will be Christmas. We are staying home this year for Christmas so the kids can enjoy playing with their toys.

Even though it will be a hectic time of the year, I am very thankful for the many blessing in my life such as my family. I think we all can to relate to that when it’s the holiday time we forget what matters the most sometimes.




self-portrait-llcHello again! It’s so hard to believe there’s only a month and a half left of 2016 and then we will be welcoming a new year!

I am still recovering from being so sick over the summer, but am feeling better in terms of energy. I am still in a considerable amount of pain from RA and dreading the idea of having to confront that fact with my Rheumatologist next week. I was told that if the pain didn’t settle, I would likely have to add another medication into the mix. The problem is that the medication in question is an injectable. After having to give myself daily shots for 5 years when I was mis-diagnosed with MS, I am not keen on dealing with constant needles again. The other big deal is that the add-on med is chemo.  I’ve been through chemo before and it’s miserable. The thing is I really can’t go on with the level of pain I am currently in, so we’re going to have to figure this out. I intend to explore my options and see if there’s any way around having to do injections.

In the meantime, I am keeping busy-for the next three weeks I am going to be immersed in medicine from the other side. I am attending a day long MS/NMO ambassador’s annual session out at UBC this weekend. It’s a chance to learn about all the current research the MS Society of Canada is doing and we will also have the opportunity to tour the labs. I am excited about touring the labs because UBC does a lot of important research here in Canada and I know several of the researchers. Getting to peek behind the proverbial curtain will be both fun and interesting.

Next Friday, I am attending an all day meeting for the Association of Registered Nurses of BC’s patient advisory committee. I was invited to serve on this committee a couple months ago and this will be our first chance to meet everyone, set our agenda for the foreseeable future and elect a chairperson. I am looking forward to working will fellow health advocates to improve how healthcare is delivered in our province.

Next weekend is also UBC’s NMO Patient Information Day. It will be good to catch up on the latest in NMO research and clinical trials and to connect with our NMO community. We have a new clinical research coordinator for the CIRCLES study whom I look forward to meeting.

The first week of December, I will be flying out to Toronto at the invitation of the MS Society of Canada to speak to over 100 junior researchers about the importance of MS research. The event is called HEAR MS Day, which stands for Hope and Engagement through Accelerating Research in MS.  I just completed 2 terms as the Community Representative for British Columbia, serving as a lay reviewer for the grants competition and the MS Society of Canada felt my input would be valuable. I am very excited to be a part of this. I will also be attending the 4 day EndMS conference that follows. They are expecting over 250 researchers and health care providers from around the world to attend. There will be scientific presentations, trainee workshops, poster sessions and networking events. I am very much looking forward to contributing and learning.

I have always had a keen interest in medical science. When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a forensic pathologist, (I know… I was a weird little kid. Clearly, I watched way too many episodes of “Quincy, ME.”) but  I would never in a million years have thought I would be so immersed in the world of medicine, research, education and advocacy the way I am now. I consider myself very right-brained, so all of this really is a departure from my wheelhouse. The thing that hooked me though is the learning-I am never happier than when I am being challenged to learn something new- I will immerse myself and soak up information like a sponge. The other big hook (and to me, the most important one) is the chance to make a difference. Someone I admire very much once said to find the thing you are passionate about and then pursue it with all your might. I am passionate about improving the human condition, especially when it comes to doing everything I can to help advocate for those of us living with NMO and MS. It is an honour and a privilege to be able to serve.


Before I sign off, just a quick reminder that UBC’s NMO Patient Information Day is coming up fast. For more information and to register, click here.

Nov 2016
POSTED BY Lelainia Lloyd

Enduring NMO back pain

We all know back pain but for neuromyelitis optica (NMO) patients most of us know it that much more. Ever since my transverse myelitis (TM) attack in 2009 I’ve known serious back pain to be part of my every day existence.

I recently threw out my back with an awkward twist. There was a small pop noise and a shot of pain and then it subsided to something manageable, or at least I thought. Over 2 weeks I took it easy and figured with a little rest it would recover back to my normal. But it didn’t happen and after a few more weeks where it really affected my every day tasks like cooking in the kitchen, sitting at my desk or even walking, I had to ask for help.

I’m currently undergoing physiotherapy treatments for a serious case of sciatica nerve pain and a rotated hip but what else I learned about my body shocked me.



In this first x-ray image we found not one but two fused sections of vertebraes in my neck, a genetic defect that unfortunately nothing can be done. But it certainly helps explain my forward head and poor posture, which trickles down to lower back pain to compensate the weight of the head.

In the second image it’s very clear I suffer from scoliosis. There are two types: acquired (from poor habits that can be improved) and genetic (that nothing can be done and that’s evident if the scoliosis is found in the lower spine as well). As it turns out I’m just lazy so I’m needing to re-train myself on how to sit properly and I’ll be taught how to undue my acquired scoliosis. 

In the third image we see my hip rotated (it’s smaller than the other, which is how we can see it isn’t sitting correctly), but we also discovered poor spacing between my vertebraes. The gaps between vertebraes should increase the further we go down the back but mine does the opposite. The disc that cushion impacts have also diminished. No one knows why my spine looks like this but at 35 years of age it could be anything from major impact falls, pre-arthritis, poor bone density or in my case repetitive high dose steroids that have deteriorated the quality of my spine. Oh, and it could have something to do with those awkward lesions left over from the TM attack.

As part of the treatment I’m seeing a chiropractor, physiotherapist, athlete specialists, massage therapy, and eventually kinesiology all working with the same clinic, Rosedale Wellness. I’ve been blessed with this incredible team of professionals who are taking a holistic approach to my recover but more importantly my long term sustainable spine health. It hasn’t been easy though. The treatments leave me dazed because my body isn’t familiar with the new posture setting. The sciatica hip pain is relieved temporarily but as I return to life it slowly returns. And the time commitment to good health is something I’ve had to decide I will stick with until the team feels I have enough tools and recovery; As a mom and entrepreneur I’ve had to off shift my responsibilities and that’s resulted in late nights as my new norm. 

For NMO patients who think back pain is something that just comes with the package I recommend speaking to qualified specialists because it might not be the case for you, just like it is starting to be for me.

Why I love Apple technology

**This post was originally published on my blog on October 28, 2016.

This video shows Sady, a woman with cerebral palsy, using Apple technology to edit videos. What’s mind-blowing is the video was actually edited by Sady herself using the very same assistive technology.

Last Wednesday, Apple announced the launch of their redesigned Apple accessibility website, which now includes videos showing how people of all ability levels use Apple technology to achieve vocational goals and do everyday tasks. These videos not only empower people living with disabilities, they also challenge everyone to rethink what a person can and cannot do regardless of abilities.

As you know, I’ve been a longtime Apple fan, and following my TEDx talk about the importance of inclusivity, I’m ecstatic that Apple continues to make universal design a priority.

Thank you, Apple, for keeping the bar high and being a pioneer for adaptive technology!


An Apple Fangirl

P.S. In keeping with their mission, here’s an audio-described version of the above video.

Nov 2016
POSTED BY Christine

Washington D.C and Dr.Levy

Two weeks ago I had an Appointment with Dr. Michael Levy at John Hopkins. Since Eric and I were traveling all the way from Colorado we decided to Make a long weekend trip and see some of the Monuments in Washington D.C. It was my first time to the east coast and it has been over 10 years since Eric was there. We decided it would be best to leave the kids at home and enjoy a couple’s getaway.


Our flight left late Wednesday night and we flew into Dulles we arrived at 11:30 p.m. Time we got the rental car and drove to the hotel which was in Old town Alexandria in Virginia. It was 1:00 a.m. so we were exhausted. Thursday morning we slept in little and woke up and explored Old town for a while and had breakfast before heading into D.C. We decided to take the metro train into D.C so we didn’t have to worry about parking and traffic. We got off the train at the National Archives and walked through the National Mall heading to the Washington Monument. I couldn’t believe all the museums at the National Mall. You could spend weeks going through all the Smithsonian Malls and other museums. As we approached the Washington Memorial it was just incredible how tall it was and all the different people from around the world was just staring up to the top of it.


Next we walked down to the World War II monument that was very beautiful to see and peaceful. As we headed to the Lincoln memorial we walked right along the reflecting pool. Which is way bigger in person then what you see on TV. When we were at the bottom of the Lincoln memorial I was thinking how am I going to climb all these steps since my NMO Symptoms are starting to hurt from walking so much? I have been walking a ton and I didn’t want to burn myself out since we still want to go see the Vietnam Wall and the White House. When I slowly climbed the stairs to the Lincoln monument and reached the top it was just gorgeous to see! It was remarkable to see how big it is and seeing it on T.V is just not the same. The Lincoln memorial was my favorite memorial to see by far. Once we were done looking at it and reading all the stuff from Lincoln we sat on top of the steps and people watched. I just could not get over how many foreigners where there looking at our American History. The sad part that there were not very many Americans there looking at our history. I had to rest for little bit before we started to walk down all the steps.


The next memorial we looked at was the Vietnam wall that was very humbling to see. Just seeing all the names and all the flowers and gifts people leave there at the wall. After that we caught a cab to head over to the White house since I was getting worn down. It was kind of crazy getting out of the cab and having to walk to get close to the White House. Since you can longer drive on the street in front of the white house and the back of the white house. The have barricades up so you can’t even get close to the fence that surrounds the house. The secret Service guys are very on point and can be a little rude and kind of jumpy with people. We simply just walked all around the White house then I had to take a rest on the Southside of the lawn. So we could walk even more to get back to the train station and head back to Old Town. When we arrived back to Old Town we ate at a great Oyster bar called Hank’s Oyster’s I highly recommend checking it out if you are ever in that area. By time dinner was over we were wiped out and ready for bed since we had a 45-minute drive to Johns Hopkins in the morning and I needed to be there at 9:30 a.m.


Friday morning bright and early with a Starbucks in my hand we headed off to Baltimore to John Hopkins to see Dr. Levy. Eric was worried that traffic would be very bad and would take awhile to get there. We made good timing arriving at 9:00a.m. I have always enjoyed Dr.Levy I have seen and listen to him speak at Guthy Jackson Patient Day for seven years. I have always wanted to fly out and go see him and I was thrilled I got that opportunity, Dr. Levy and I spent a over an hour going through my NMO history and what issues I would like to address. He would like to switch some medications around and do some blood tests and follow up in a few weeks. Since I have been diagnosed for 8 years there was a lot of information that needs to be talked about. Plus he wants to look at my MRI’s when I was first diagnosed to my latest MRI’S to see how my lesions are doing.


After leaving the Hospital we drove around Baltimore a little bit then we went to a crab place that had really good reviews for crab. Eric wanted crabs right out of the bucket. Like when he lived in Virginia Beach. So that was a nice lunch. We decided to take a scenic route back to D.C I wanted to check out Georgetown. LOL it seemed like a good idea but it kind of a pain but we made it to Georgetown the next tricky part was finding parking. It took us awhile but Eric got it done. I wanted to go shopping and stop at my favorite cupcake store Sprinkles! If anyone really knows me I am very addictive to these cupcakes. If I am visiting a city and they have Sprinkle store I will be most defiantly will be stopping by and buying cupcakes. After shopping for a while we headed back to the hotel and rested for a bit and went to a late dinner at a fabulous Southern food restaurant called Hen’s Quarters. It was the best-fried chicken I have had in a long time. We took a nice stroll down King Street after dinner and headed back to hotel cause we were pretty beat.


Saturday was a very special day we decided to spend the day at Arlington Cemetery. I wanted to see the tomb of the unknown solider and the changing of the guard. But also were the Kennedy’s are buried. Also I wanted to spend our last day at a place that was not going to be too crowded with people and was going to be not so noisy and just spend a quite day getting ready to go back to reality. I loved watching the changing of the guard and over all seeing the cemetery and seeing where JFK is buried. We spent about 4 hours walking around the cemetery. We headed back to hotel around 3 and went to a local bar and had a few drinks and went shopping a little bit then off to Hank Oyster Bar again because they had the best crab cake we found during our vacation. We enjoyed our last romantic dinner. Since we had an early flight on Sunday Morning.

Now that I am back home I am still waiting to hear back about the blood tests and on Friday I have an Appointment with my neurologist about what Dr.Levy said and the new medications I Need to try. So I will keep you all posted!


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