Let me tell you a little something about Antonela. She is my best friend and an extraordinary person loved by everyone whose life she touches. She has a sunny personality and is fun to be around - you know the type that’s always cheering everybody up, cracking jokes and entertaining the whole crowd. She is also an animal lover and has a true zest for the outdoors, nature and sports.
She was diagnosed with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) in 2005 while studying and working in the US. In her diary (that she so kindly shared with me) she describes her first symptoms: „After waking up I started feeling weak. My shoulder felt tired, fatigue was taking over my days. I woke up one morning with chicken pox, third time in my life. I had to go see a doctor. Dr. John decided to perform an MRI on my brain. And they found them, they found the white spots. I was diagnosed with MS. Million questions poured into my white-spots-scared brain, and yes that was the official state of my brain - it looked like a black sheet, literally covered with white stains.” The stains that she describes are called lesions and are the result of her own immune system attacking myelin of her nerve fibres for no discovered reason, and causing communication problems between her brain and the rest of her body. Eventually MS causes permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves, affecting limbs, movement, balance, bladder, eyesight, memory etc. As is a progressing disease with no known cure, these symptoms come and go, but if the nerve damage is severe, they are irreversible and the worst-case (but most likely) scenario is being completely disabled and trapped in a wheelchair, with no ability to move or perform basic human functions.
For the past 14 years, Antonela is on a slow but steady route down the hill, with every attack leaving more damage to her nerves. But, the most amazing thing about her is that she is a fighter - and I say this in great awe. While every person deals with a difficult diagnosis in their own way, Antonela did what seems to me an unbelievably courageous thing: she started running marathons. The very year she was diagnosed with MS, she ran 4 marathons (Whidbey Island, Portland and Mercer Island Marathon and Yachima River Canyon Marathon). She became an active athlete, volleyball player (and coach), she went on numerous hiking trails across the US (Pacific Rest Trail, North Cascades), rock-climbed 1335 m on steep cliffs called Samarske Stijene, reached the summits of several mountains in the US and Croatia, went free-diving, river kayaking and rafting on fast-flowing waters. In between all these intense activities of stretching the limits of one’s own abilities, Antonela went through multiple attacks, hit the rock bottom and picked herself up again. It takes tremendous mental efforts to do that. The last marathon she ran was Paris Marathon in 2012- she was going through a tough period with her disease at that time, but still she managed to win the medal. She said while running the Paris Marathon, she felt like she is beating the unbeatable. During all her sports activities, which for an average person (like me) seem pretty tough, I can picture Antonela saying in her quirky way: “You don’t own me, MS. You don’t scare me! See what I can do? Beat that!!!”
However, the attacks became more severe and left more permanent damage. The last and the worst relapse happened in 2016 when she became paralyzed and bedridden for months, lost 20 kilos and bladder control. After the attack, she went into a relapse phase and regained some of the functions, so she is now able to walk with a cane. She still suffers balance and bladder problems, muscle spasms, stiffness, tremors and lack of coordination, as well as burning feet, tingling and fatigue. She might not be able to run marathons any more but she is still a fighter and a winner for every person on the planet that knows her.
Accidentally, a group of friends and I discovered the option of AHSCT treatment in Russia. AHSCT is a type of transplantation that uses the person's own stem cells from peripheral blood. These cells are collected in advance, stored at sub-zero temperatures, and returned at a later stage, after high dose chemotherapy or immunesupressive therapy. This treatment has a 70-95% chance of preventing the progression of RRMS. Through their website, we contacted Dr. Denis Fedorenko, the leading hematologist of Russia, who performs AHSCT treatment in the National Medical and Surgical Center in Moscow and turns out that Antonela is eligible for the treatment and has a high success rate if she undergoes the transplantation as soon as possible. The expenses of the one-month AHSCT treatment are 50 000 EUR, including the round-trip flight from Zagreb to Moscow. Due to her current stage of disease, Antonela is unable to work full-time and has limited income. Just as she is too proud to admit that MS is a dangerous opponent she is fighting against, she is too proud to ask for financial help herself. So, thinking of how we can come up with the money for her treatment, a group of friends and I decided to set up this Go Get Funding account to help raise money for her AHSCT treatment in Russia and help her beat the unbeatable - just like when she was running the Paris Marathon in 2012. We are genuinely asking for your help. We know you work hard for your money and the decision to give some of it away is not always an easy choice, particularly if you are donating for someone other than your family or friends. That is why every donation, no matter how small, is greatly appreciated. Just think about it - is there anything better than giving somebody a chance for the life they deserve? Thank you for your support and generosity.