A north-east woman has travelled 8,000 miles across the world for a £40,000 medical treatment she’s “not ill enough” to receive at home.
Louise Herbert, 40, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) at the age of 26, a brain and nerve condition causing the likes of fatigue and numbness.
Originally from Shetland, she had been very active representing the isles at both junior and senior intercounty netball.
She was elected sports president while studying at Aberdeen University and in 2003 she even ran the London Marathon.
But in recent years her symptoms have worsened significantly, leading to fears her health will continue to deteriorate.
‘I thought I’d had a stroke’
Louise first realised something was wrong in 2007.
“I woke up one morning with a numb left side [of my body] and the right side of my face,” she said.
“I thought I’d had a stroke in the night.”
Following a series of tests, she was diagnosed with MS the following year.
Initially, however, it failed to have much of an impact on her life.
Louise said: “At that point I was still fit. I was 26, I was running and playing netball, I almost forgot about it.
“It’s only been in maybe the past three years I’ve noticed anymore episodes.
“My daughter’s nine now, she would’ve been six when I couldn’t go on longer walks.
“My limit now is about 15 to 20 minutes.
“I thought to myself: ‘Maybe I need to do something about this’.”
Louise began speaking to other MS patients who have had treatment in Mexico, and decided to follow suit.
But facing a hefty $54,000 US price tag, she was helped out enormously by fundraising family and friends.
This included Robert Gordon University’s women’s football team, who raised £2,120 through a gruelling 24-hour challenge.
‘The criteria is really strict’
On Sunday, Louise landed in Mexico with hopes HSCT (haematopoietic stem cell transplantation) can stop her condition from deteriorating any further.
This is an intense chemotherapy where harmful immune cells are removed.
The immune system is then rebuilt through the use of stem cells located in your bone marrow.
She’s spending the next month with husband Paul, while she receives treatment from Clinica Ruiz, in the city of Puebla.
The private hospital is the largest specialist autoimmune disease centre of its kind in the world.
Louise explained: “You can get this treatment in the UK but the criteria is really strict and basically I’m not ill enough.
“The cost to go private would be over £100,000, here it’s $54,000 (approx. £40,000).
“In Mexico, we’ve got our own apartments, there’s a restaurant, you can get food delivered to the room, and there’s a rooftop garden you can sit in and socialise.
“When you put a flight on top that, it’s not really a horrendous price.
“We’re living here a month, getting three meals a day, they come up and get our dirty clothes and wash them.”
‘I don’t want to be in a wheelchair’
Louise hopes the treatment will “halt” the progression of her MS – and potentially make a big difference to her life.
“I’m hoping my walking could improve slightly, and little things like when I’m putting my pyjamas on as I need help to lift my leg up.
“I don’t want to be in a wheelchair when I turn 60.”
The couple have also met other patients in Mexico in a similar position.
“When we were up on the roof terrace, it was just brilliant speaking to everybody who have their own stories,” Louise said.
“It makes you feel like you aren’t alone.”