Thanks to an experimental new procedure, a former Jamestown resident may soon be on track to walk on her own again after suffering a brain aneurysm more than a decade ago.
Kristie McCaslin was only 19 years old when an aneurysm caused by an arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, resulted in her falling into a coma for nearly four months. At the time, doctors believed that even if McCaslin came out of the coma, she would likely remain in a vegetative state for the remainder of her life. Despite the grim prognosis, McCaslin not only emerged from the coma, but also regained some motor skills and is able to walk with assistance. McCaslin and her mother, Roseann Olejniczak, who is also her primary caregiver, have since relocated to the Greensboro, N.C. area.
Recently, Olejniczak created an online fundraiser looking to raise $10,000 to cover the cost of a procedure she learned about that may hold some hope for McCaslin. The procedure, which was pioneered by Dr. Edward Tobinick, involves a perispinal injection of etanercept, marketed as Enbrel. However, the drug has not yet been approved by the FDA for use in this type of procedure, and as such, the procedure will not be covered by insurance.
"Any little bit that someone can donate will help," said Stacy Hathaway, McCaslin's sister. "Kristie has gotten a lot of local support with this so far, just about everyone donating has been from Jamestown. She's really excited about it, not just from the financial side, but because she's hearing about the local support that she's been getting."
"I'm so excited, a lot of people have heard about this through the grapevine, and they have contacted me," said McCaslin.
According to Hathaway, the family has already been in contact with Tobinick's office, and they believe that McCaslin is a viable candidate for the procedure, given her age and health.
"The main thing is really her determination, though," said Hathaway. "She's got such a strong will to get better, and she's got herself on a rigid routine, working out as much as she can in her situation to keep her muscles toned."
Olejniczak originally heard about the procedure after a neighbor dropped off a newspaper to the family that spoke about the possible breakthrough.
"Basically, the doctor is using a drug that is approved for other things like arthritis, but he's using it in a new way to help treat stroke patients," said Olejniczak. "From what I've read, he's been doing the procedure since roughly 2010, and he's seen an 85 percent success rate on the stroke victims that he's treated - he's really had some amazing successes."
Prior to being selected as a candidate for the procedure, Tobinick conducts a lengthy consultation. The initial meeting comes at a cost of $700, but if the patient is not selected for the procedure, that money is immediately refunded. The procedure itself then costs an additional $4,800 to $6,800, depending on whether follow-up visits are included.
"In some of the testimonials that I've read about this procedure, some of the patients are well enough to walk out of the doctor's office on their own after a single trip," said Olejniczak. "The way that I look at it, no matter what kind of improvement occurs, it's still an improvement. Kristie can already walk with assistance, and that's after they told us that she would never walk again. A local doctor from Greensboro recently told me that there's no reason why this procedure wouldn't help since Kristie already has the muscle tone from her exercise routine. She works hard to keep this up and make it a possibility."
The procedure involves injecting a dosage of etanercept into the neck, then inverting them for as little as five minutes. In a peer-reviewed study of 617 stroke patients and 12 patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries that was published last December in the Adis medical journal, "CNS Drugs," more than 80 percent of those patients saw improvements in their ability to walk. More than 80 percent also saw a reduction in spasticity, and more than 85 percent exhibited improved motor functions. Other improvements were recorded in regard to range of motion, speech, concentration and more.
"We set the appointment up for April, and we're going to go for it," said Olejniczak. "Kristie can't use her left hand anymore, but she's still been exercising her left arm. She's just amazing, and she's come such a long way. She didn't let this ruin her life, and she has such a positive outlook, saying that she will walk again. It's been almost 14 years now, but there's something about this that makes me feel like this is going to work. We're just hoping that God has the same plans that we do."
For more information about McCaslin and the online fundraiser, call Roseann Olejniczak at 336-509-3632. Visit www.gofundme.com/21jh34 to donate to the cause.