Hammond man aims to eradicate his MS
Bill Anderson had made it his personal mission to defeat multiple sclerosis.
The Hammond man took up the cause in the early 2000s as leader of a cycling team that participated in the Minnesota MS 150 bike ride, where he helped raise thousands of dollars.
At the time, the ride was a perfect marriage of charity work and physical fitness.
“I knew it was my calling to get a cure and be an advocate,” he said.
But in 2011, Anderson’s dedication to the cause abruptly became more personal.
He’d been beset by double-vision, so he had MRI testing done. The tests revealed telltale lesions on his brain that meant only one thing: the disease he’d fought so tirelessly to cure for others had made an MS patient out of him.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Anderson said, recalling the diagnosis.
Kelly, Bill’s wife, said she instantly flashed to memories of a childhood friend’s mother who suffered badly from MS.
“Right away, my mind went to that,” she said. “It was very terrifying.”
The diagnosis represented a sea change in Bill’s life at age 36. He had to give up riding in the grueling MS 150 — which runs from the Duluth, Minn., area to St. Paul — after nine years.
“To see him go from participating in all these things and being the guy that motivates everybody … to where he’s not biking anymore has been pretty difficult,” Kelly said.
Later, recurring pain brought on by the disease forced Bill to quit his job as head of security at Andersen Corp.’s offices in Oak Park Heights, Minn.,
“It was the toughest decision at 40 years old for Kelly and I and the family,” said Bill, who served five years as a Baldwin police officer before going to work at Andersen.
But Bill’s vigilance in the fight against the disease has not waned — nor has the optimism buoying his hopes.
That positivity shines brighter than ever now as Anderson prepares for a medical treatment that he’s hoping will beat back his MS for good.
On March 26, he and Kelly leave for Mexico, where Bill will undergo a stem-cell treatment aimed at stopping his MS dead in its tracks.
“It feels very empowering to to say we’re going to do something about it ourselves,” Kelly said of the program.
The treatment begins with Bill having stem cells removed from his bone marrow. After that, he undergoes several weeks of chemotherapy.
The chemo treatments are designed to kill the cells that cause MS and to take his body’s immune system to a minimal level.
Once he’s at that stage, the stem cells extracted from his body are re-introduced into his system.
If all goes as planned, Bill’s immune system will regenerate itself.
“Thus, halting MS in its tracks,” he said. “We’re hoping, anyway.”
There’s good reason for those high hopes; the treatment has seen a 92 percent success rate in the first five years of treatment among MS patients, Bill said.
Just landing a spot on the list was a struggle in its own right.
Bill said he applied to participate in the trials a year ago and wasn’t accepted for the Mexico program until last August.
The trials are offered in other cities — including two in the United States — but terms of acceptance vary from location to location.
“If you could get it, you’d go anywhere,” Bill said.
However, the stem-cell therapy is in the clinical stage of testing and is not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — nor is it covered by Bill’s insurance.
The trip and the treatment carry a $60,000 price tag that needs to be covered.
A November 2015 benefit put a massive dent in the effort, bringing the current fundraising total to about $46,000.
Bill, who used to be the guy running fundraisers for MS patients, said he’s left “very humbled” by the experience.
“It’s hard to process that part,” he said, calling the outpouring of support an emotional realization.
The Andersons hope to get over the fundraising hump after a March 19 event at Uncle Mike’s M Pour E Yum in Hudson.
The benefit includes a spaghetti dinner, a comedy show and a band.
As the countdown nears for the trip to Mexico, the experience has become more visceral for Bill and Kelly.
She said unknowns surrounding the treatment can fray the nerves, though the Andersons won’t be flying blind as they embark on the journey.
Bill has been in touch with a Twin Cities woman who has undergone the procedure — and has already seen improvements.
That, Kelly said, has helped soothe the anxiety.
“It actually has been good,” she said.
“We do have that connection, and that’s been helpful. We’re probably as ready as we’re going to be.”