Not many people know that Alberta has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the world – more than 340 cases per 100,000 or 1 in every 294 Albertans. An inflammatory disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), MS has no clear cause or cure.

While some MS patients experience little or no disability, more than half may be unable to walk within 20 years of diagnosis, an unsettling reality given that MS afflicts patients in the prime years of their lives, typically 20-40 years old.

When Jane and John Holmlund learned that Jane had MS, there was no other word to capture their feelings but shock. 

As the mother of two small children and a registered nurse, Jane was an active, busy person with a full life. The only hint that anything was wrong was that sometimes, she would drop things.

“Jane was retraining after taking a break from nursing for a number of years, and she realized she couldn’t feel the pulse in her patients. Her fingers had no feelings.” John Holmlund explained. “So, her doctor referred her to a specialist.”

Doctors often determine whether a patient has MS by ruling out other potential causes for the symptoms – which can take up to two years, or longer.

40 years ago, at the time Jane was beginning to show symptoms, there were no MRI’s. Instead, a spinal tap was conducted and a diagnosis of MS was delivered.

For the Holmlund’s, the diagnosis came with little comfort.

“Basically, we were told, ‘Go home and live with it. There’s nothing that we can do.’ That was a real shock to us,” said Holmlund. “Jane had MS, but we said, ‘We’re gonna deal with this. We’re gonna make this work.” While Jane went through relapses of her disease that resulted in the loss of her vision or use of a limb, medication allowed her to manage the symptoms and remain active.

“Jane had MS and she was president of the figure skating club. She delivered meals on wheels for 25 years,” added Holmlund. “In the last ten years, her mobility has gotten worse but she’s still fighting. Everybody that knows her says she’s such an inspiration in their life.”

While the diagnosis and treatment of MS has changed, there is no cure – but there is hope on the horizon.

In the past, the University Hospital Foundation and our community of donors have brought world leading brain, cardiac, urologic, gastrointestinal and transplant care to Edmonton. Plans are in the works to bring similar, bold and innovative advancements that will better the lives of people living with MS.

“We are the hotspot in the world for MS,” says Dr. Jodi Abbott, President & CEO of the University Hospital Foundation. “We want to change that to the hotspot for MS research, in-hospital care and care in the community for the thousands of people around us who live with this devastating condition.”

For more information on how you can support patients with MS, reach out to philanthropy@givetouhf.ca. 

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