Debbie Perkins' persistent smile makes it hard to gauge how difficult multiple sclerosis makes her life.
She'll tell you about calling 911 because she was too weak to get up after a fall. But she follows that with a smile and a plug for how nice the Norman firefighters are.
In the midst of listing off the nine medications she takes, she'll explain how grateful she is for their benefits.
Perkins decided early on in her disease that multiple sclerosis was not going to take over her life.
“I have my moments, when I fall or when I'm weak or when I'm just not having a good day,” Perkins said. “I get depressed, and I might cry, but the fortunate thing for me is, I just look around and think, ‘Look what all you have.'”
Perkins considers herself lucky one of the lucky ones, for she has had access to health care. There are more than 3,400 people in Oklahoma living with multiple sclerosis, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Oklahoma chapter.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Most people experience their first symptoms, often times blurred vision or blindness in one eye, between 20 and 40, according to the institute. Symptoms of the disease can range from relatively mild to partial or complete paralysis, according to the institute.
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, but Perkins' physician, Dr. Gabriel Pardo, is optimistic there will be significant medical advances in treatment options for MS patients.
Since the early 1990s, treatments for multiple sclerosis have continued to improve, said Pardo, director of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation's Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence.
The first three long-term treatments for multiple sclerosis became available in the 1990s and were dubbed the “A-B-C” drugs because of their brand names: Avonex, Betaseron, and Copaxone, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.
Currently, there are multiple MS drugs that are in different stages of development, Pardo said. For example, there are three drugs that are expected to finalize their Phase III trials and seek FDA approval over the next few years.
The current treatments don't work for everyone, and these new drugs bring hope for multiple sclerosis patients who have yet to see relief from their disease, Pardo said.
“Having other medications that work through different mechanisms open the possibility for us finding a medication that works for that given patient,” Pardo said.
There's a bigger conversation around finding a cure for MS, too. If researchers can cure multiple sclerosis, there's hope they can cure other autoimmune diseases, too.