Rocky Mount Woman Seeks Cure in China
Posted July 9, 2008 5:55 p.m. EDT
Updated July 9, 2008 7:19 p.m. EDT
Rocky Mount, N.C. — Teresa Mason has always been an achiever. She graduated from North Carolina Central University with a law degree in 1995. The 40-year-old was a registered mediator for the state Supreme Court of Georgia and currently works as Ethics Program director with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
She is happily married with three young children. Mason is trying to find a cure for a disease that killed her grandfather, her uncle and is afflicting her mother, Joyce Walker.
Last year, Teresa learned she has an even more aggressive case of OPCA, Olivo Ponto Cerebellar Atrophy.
"The MRI (done when she was 39) showed some symptoms of atrophy or ataxia of the cerebellum in my brain," Mason said.
Her cerebellum is shrinking. The first symptoms are slight tremors or bodily shaking. There is medication for that, but medicine in the United States offers nothing to slow or stop the disease from eventually killing her.
However, Mason's own research led to her a distant hope.
"They have seen something in China that helps people and they're using it," she said.
Unrestrained by the exhaustive testing requirements in the U.S., doctors in Qingdao, China, are using stem cells from umbilical cord blood. The stem cells are injected into the cerebral spinal fluid.
Mason is currently in China to receive the relatively untested therapy against the advice of all her doctors back home.
"If there's something in the world that can help defeat this condition, I want to be at the forefront of that," she added.
Mason's desperation isn't just for her own life, but for her children who are also at risk as they age.
"I really want my children to see me as an example of someone who's taking a proactive step," she said. "It may take going to China to find it or going somewhere else, but I believe that there's a cure out there."
The cost of treatment in China will come out of her own pocket. Mason will draw from a fund set up through Ebenezer Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, which is in the name of her mother, Joyce Walker.
Mason arrived in China at the end of June and will stay for several weeks. She said her Chinese doctors tells her it could be as little as three to six months before she sees results from the stem cell therapy.