When Vicki Wilson was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis in May 2012, she was devastated.
PPMS effects only 10 percent of people with MS, and she was not sure what to expect.
"The patient never has relapses," Wilson says. "The disease just continually progresses and will leave them wheelchair and/or bedridden. It typically starts with weakness in the legs, making walking difficult. I had always been very athletic and active. This was very difficult to hear."
Wilson, who lives in Little Rock, Ark., says her husband and family are her biggest supporters. Her parents even flew halfway around the world to accompany her on a trip to receive treatment.
Wilson remains active because she refuses to let the disease stop her from doing physical activities.
"I lift weights, walk, ride my bike and kayak," says Wilson, 48. "I think being physically active is so important for everyone with MS. It really does help."
Although treatment options are limited for PPMS, Wilson thought there had to be something out there -- just maybe not in the U.S. She had to give up on her career (she worked in educational furniture sales specialist in north Florida) and focus instead on digging up treatment options on the Internet. There she found a Facebook forum about a treatment that uses the patient's own stem cells to reboot their immune system.
Wilson applied to hospitals around the world for entry into their treatment programs, and a Moscow hospital accepted her.
"They gave me a 60 to 70 percent chance of stopping the progression, but little hope of regaining what I'd lost," Wilson says.
After falling repeatedly, Wilson decided it was time to try the treatment. A bowling fundraiser was held for her to help her go to Russia and pay for the specialized treatment. She checked into the hospital in Moscow on August 19, 2013, and spent more than a month there.
"I've spent the last year trying to regain some of what I've lost," she says. "After six months I no longer needed my trekking pole, except for long walks. Before the treatment I could barely walk a quarter-mile. I can now walk two miles once a week and walk 1.5 miles several days a week."
Not only did the treatment stop Wilson's progression, but she is slowly getting stronger.
"I've started riding my bike again, and it feels great," Wilson says. "I feel I will be able to ride 10 miles before the end of the year. I'm at seven currently. I have so many people cheering me on.
"I know with continued hard work, I can maintain or even continue to improve over the next year. Staying physically active has truly been the key."