Town helps Cuero native fight multiple sclerosis (w/video)
June 20, 2014 at 1:20 a.m.
CUERO - Nathan "Nate" Post, 39, remembers his reaction to the MS 150 bicycle race signs posted around College Station when he lived there in 1995.
The wall of cyclists riding in the 180-mile bicycle race from Houston to Austin would slow his drive home.
Post joined the ranks of impatient drivers, but he did not realize that multiple sclerosis would slow his life in more important ways in the near future.
Friends and family are hosting a "Slay the Monster" benefit for Post on June 28 in Cuero Municipal Park to pay for an innovative stem cell transplant at Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago. The procedure, which insurance companies have repeatedly refused to cover, costs $125,000.
"I'll get my life back. I'm 39 - I'm not supposed to use a walker," Post said. "My kids are 7 and 3, and I can't run and play with them."
The event begins with breakfast tacos at 7:30 a.m. and ends with a free dance in the evening to thank supporters. Activities throughout the day include a 5K walk and run, golf and softball tournaments, team roping, silent and live auctions, a bake sale and a hamburger lunch.
"Nate is a big advocate for MS, so when this works for him, it will inspire others with MS in Texas," said Brenda Martin, chairwoman for the benefit. "I don't know Nate, but I know his mother, and she has supported me in the community and backed my projects."
In 1998, Post's first symptoms of multiple sclerosis surfaced. The disease is caused when the body's immune system breaks down the protective covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
Post's eye began to twitch, his lower back began to hurt, and lightning pain shot down his spine when he lowered his chin to his chest. He began to involuntarily veer off the sidewalks as he walked around Tarleton State University, where he was a student.
"I would get up in the morning, and my legs would collapse," Post said. "I would sit on the edge of the tub to shower."
He attributed his problems to sciatica when an MRI did not reveal any problems. After a computerized tomography scan and a lumbar puncture, doctors told Post he most likely had cancer, diabetes or multiple sclerosis.
Post hoped for cancer, so he could beat the disease that had taken his father a few years earlier.
In Houston, doctors discovered enhancing lesions in Post's brain, but they were not ready to diagnose multiple sclerosis after only one attack.
After a regimen of steroids, Post returned to school, where he earned his second master's degree in animal science. He accepted a position in a research lab at the University of Arkansas.
But in 2001, he began to experience new symptoms.
His left arm became numb, and an MRI revealed more enhancing lesions in his brain. Doctors officially diagnosed Post with multiple sclerosis Sept. 24, 2001.
After the standard dose of steroids, Post began injecting a disease-modifying drug every other day in a rotation between his thigh, his hip, his arm and his stomach. The drug is used to slow progression of the disease and decrease the number of attacks. Post dropped from 350 pounds to 270 pounds by 2002.
After his 2003 marriage to Jennifer Mathews Post, the couple moved to Illinois, where he assumed management of a beef cattle research center at the University of Illinois.
Post experienced a couple of relatively good years before he began searching for new solutions. He switched to a new drug in 2008 because he was still having attacks every year.
His weight had dropped to 200 pounds, and his injection sites had become bruised and swollen.
"I never had an attack like the first one, so I think I glossed over the worsening symptoms," Post said.
In 2010, Post had angioplasty, a procedure that had eased symptoms of the disease for some people. But the surgery did not produce any positive outcomes for Post.
"It has been a difficult diagnosis, and Nathan has certainly done his research," said Sara Post Meyer, Nate's mother, who is the mayor of Cuero. "He handles setbacks extremely well, and he stays current on information in the MS world."
A sparkle of hope
Post began to hear and read about stem cell transplants that were changing lives of people with multiple sclerosis. In 2013, he met with Dr. Richard Burt, chief of the division of immunotherapy at Northwestern University in Chicago, who pioneered the use of stem cells to treat autoimmune diseases.
"The results are stunning," Burt said.
While he could not share details about his study pending publication in a medical journal, the doctor said that many of his patients discontinue use of the drugs after their stem cell transplants.
The procedure gives lives back to people with multiple sclerosis, and it is entirely cost effective, too, Burt said.
"The drugs cost $70,000 to $80,000 yearly, and this is a one-time treatment," he said.
Burt agreed to perform the transplant on a compassionate basis because Post did not qualify for his trial studies.
"They'll schedule my transplant as soon as I write the check," Post said. "The envelope is stamped and ready."
A family's support
Last August, Post moved home to Cuero with his wife and two sons. The family lives with Post's mother and stepfather.
New and worsening symptoms, including drop foot, numbness in his lower legs and hands, hip weakness, poor balance, muscle spasticity, bladder issues, heat intolerance and fatigue, had made employment impossible for Post.
Unused sick and vacation pay supported the family through May. They now survive on disability payments from the state of Illinois as well as payments from a private long-term insurance policy.
Jennifer Post works at a Cuero bank.
Multiple sclerosis robbed Post of a life he worked hard to build, including a successful and rewarding career that provided a comfortable life for his family.
"This will give me some semblance of a normal life - I won't end up homebound, stuck in a bed," Post said. "I can't wait another year, or there will be no benefit."
Post has a lot of living still to do, his mother said.