A local mother "consumed” by the severe pain of a degenerative condition that restricts her movement is reaching out for help in fundraising £10,000 for stem cell therapy to repair her damaged joints.
Michelle Filipe (39), was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease causing the immune system to attack cells around joints, causing pain, swelling and stiffness – 10 years ago.
"It started off with heavy legs in the morning,” she told Express. "I would wake up with my fingers locked. It would sometimes take until lunchtime for them to got back to back to normal. I would massage them under hot water. Luckily at the time I worked in a bank, in the back office, so I didn't really see clients face to face and could type with two fingers."
Things have gradually worsened over the past decade. Down her left side, her knee, hip, elbow and wrist are worst affected, while her right knee and lower back are also a problem.
Pictured: Rheumatoid arthritis has damaged many joints on Michelle's left side, including her elbow, meaning she can't straighten her arm.
"I am in pain daily. It consumes you. It is like you have a brain fog because the pain makes it hard to think clearly. I am tired. There is more fatigue if I over do it and I have lost my mobility.
"In my mind, I still have the body that I had 10 years ago. But then I stand up and take that first step, I cannot do the things I used to do, I can't get out of the bath..."
Michelle says she feels lucky her partner Leroy stepped up to look after their children – Liliana (6) and Gio (20) – but regrets being unable to properly spend time with them.
"With my daughter, [Leroy] is the one who takes her to the park and does all the activities with her. I can only sit and watch.”
Pictured: Michelle with her partner Leroy and their daughter.
Michelle has tried a range of drugs and dietary changes, and has been “on and off” immunosuppressants – strong drugs usually given to recovering cancer patients to restrict immune system ‘attacks’. However, little has been able to minimise the effects of her arthritis.
She was then inspired to research alternative therapies, and stumbled upon a regenerative procedure at a London clinic. It uses small amounts of fat tissue to extract stem cells which are then injected into damaged areas of the body.
"Everyone repairs and heals differently so it might be that they tell me that my left knee or elbow are too far gone and can't be repaired, but whatever they can repair I will be happy. I think it will be best for me, as I won't need as much time to recover. It's an in-and-out procedure. The only thing they recommend is for you to take it easy in the two-three days after."
It sounds ideal, but the problem is that it comes at a high price. Conducting the procedure on just one joint costs just under £6,000, with every additional procedure costing a further £1,000.
Michelle asked Social Security and various charities if they would be able to help, but was told that no funding was available for a private treatment. Instead, she has decided to appeal to islanders’ generosity through a crowdfunding page, which has so far raised around £2,200.
But it hasn’t been easy: "Having to share my story and putting myself out there, it has made me feel quite vulnerable."
With the help of family, friends and work colleagues, Michelle hopes to raise more before Easter 2019 when she hopes to have the procedure done.
Last Friday, her Brighter Futures co-workers held a ‘silly’ outfit fundraiser and will be holding another event on 3 November.
Pictured: Michelle and her children, Gio and Liliana.
While Michelle understands her journey is personal, she hopes it will inspire others suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or similar conditions.
She recently created a support group on Facebook called 'Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior' during a bad flare-up to get in touch with other patients. "It's good to be able to discuss treatments, how we cope with flare-ups, what we have tried. It makes you feel you are not alone.”
She hopes to share her treatment experience and results. Above all, though, her message is: “Help is out there, maybe not where you expect it.
“I have found it really hard to receive help recently – I am more used to giving help – but I want to tell people, 'Don't be scared to ask!'"
Visit Michelle's crowdfunding page here.
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