ATLANTA, Ga. - Mark Rosenthal, a Griffin father of 5, says Multiple Sclerosis was gradually robbing of him of his quality of life. The treatment he was undergoing didn’t seem to be working. So, Rosenthal and his family and friends raised $60,000 to allow him to travel to Mexico and under a stem cell transplant still considered experimental in the United States.
Three months later, Rosenthal is on the home stretch. Back in Georgia, getting a follow-up infusion at Shepherd Center.
"I feel really great right now, better than I've felt in a long time,” he says. “The main goal is stopping the progression, so that it will not get any worse. I have not gotten any worse. And I had been at a rate where I was just going downhill fast."
With MS, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the brain and spinal cord, damaging the protective lining around the nerves.
To try to stop this process, Rosenthal underwent something called H-S-C-T, or a hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
Dr. Ben Thrower, Medical Director of the Andrew C. Carlos MS Center at Shepherd Center, follows the HSCT research closely and is familiar with the process.
Once Mark's immature white blood cells were collected and saved, his immune system was wiped out with chemotherapy. Then he was given back his own healthy, immature cells.
"He gets those stem cells back,” says Dr. Thrower. “It reboots his system, and reboots a system that is fresh and doesn't have the memory to attack the brain and spinal cord."
Three months post-transplant, on a scale of 1 to 10, Mark says he’s at 7.
“But it's normal to go through a rollercoaster, they say, after this,” he says. “It can take up to 2 to 3 years to see the full benefit."
Recently Rosenthal hit a wall.
He says the local doctors he'd lined here in Georgia to continue his HSCT treatment protocol backed out. So, Dr.Thrower, who was interviewed for FOX 5's original story on Mark, stepped in after seeing his appeal for help on Facebook.
"It just, something really spoke to me about him as a person, and the struggles he was going through,” says Dr. Thrower.
He arranged for Rosenthal to receive the monoclonal antibody rituximab, sometimes used off-label to treat M-S.
"It's very specific,” says Dr. Thrower. “It's not suppressing your immune system, it's not boosting your immune system. The hope is that it's letting his immune system reboot after his HSCT procedure, that you're helping guide that reboot."
Rosenthal is seeing some hopeful signs. His brain fog is lifting, and he no longer forgets his wife's name.
"That's a dangerous thing to call your wife something else,” he says.
He’s able to tolerate the Georgia heat again, to go outside and play with his children.
"I feel like I'm as sharp as I've been ever right now, even before MS."