Putting up a fight: Angie Selberg hopes stem cells deliver knockout punch to MSWORTHINGTON — After living in limbo for more than a decade, Angie Selberg has a true glimmer of hope that she’ll be able to pursue her ultimate dream — living and working in Hollywood. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000, Angie has since lived with her parents, Dean and Vicki Selberg, in rural Bigelow. But she recently traveled to Central America for a controversial treatment that is already beginning to alleviate some of the disease’s symptoms.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — After living in limbo for more than a decade, Angie Selberg has a true glimmer of hope that she’ll be able to pursue her ultimate dream — living and working in Hollywood.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000, Angie has since lived with her parents, Dean and Vicki Selberg, in rural Bigelow. But she recently traveled to Central America for a controversial treatment that is already beginning to alleviate some of the disease’s symptoms.
A 1996 graduate of Worthington High School, Angie earned a degree in communications from Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa.
“I’m a communicator. Bet you couldn’t tell that, could you?” Angie joked about her talkative personality.
After college graduation, Angie was employed as a graphic designer at a media design company in Mankato.
“It was not what I wanted to do, so I moved back home” — temporarily — to regroup, Angie recalled. “A month later, I was diagnosed.”
It was a car accident that brought the MS to light. Before that, there weren’t any symptoms of which Angie was aware.
“It did come on pretty quickly,” she said. “It did kind of blow me over a little bit. Hmmmm. Multiple sclerosis. That doesn’t sound like much fun. But I’ve got it, and I’m dealing with it.”
Multiple sclerosis — often just referred to as MS — is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.
In Angie’s case, the left side of her body is more affected than the right. She often uses a cane to provide stability, especially when facing the brisk southwest Minnesota wind. She regularly sees a neurologist in Sioux Falls, S.D., and was prescribed a regimen of drugs to cope with the symptoms.
Angie wasn’t actively pursuing alternatives, but when the possibility of stem cell treatments arose, she began to do some research.
“My neurologist said that stem cells were my best bet,” she explained, adding that a relative also talked with a doctor involved in stem cell research about her case. “What the heck, I’ll give it a try.”
So Angie filled out an online patient application for the Stem Cell Institute, located in Panama City, Panama. When she received a follow-up call from the clinic a week and a half later, she assumed her application was still in the beginning stages, so she was stunned to learn that she had already been accepted for the program. She later learned that only half of the applicants are usually accepted.
Soon, Angie and mom Vicki were making arrangements to travel to Panama. A local event helped raise funds to alleviate some of the expenses involved in the treatment.
They arrived Feb. 5 in Panama City, and Angie began evaluation followed by four weeks of treatment.
“They have good success rate with people my age,” Angie explained.
To begin with, Angie’s own stem cells were harvested through a mini-liposuction process..
“They took my own lard, from my belly,” said Angie. “They spin it in a machine and keep the good ones and get rid of bad ones. They said I had good stem cells. Apparently I’m good at doing something — making stem cells. I’m also good at eating candy.”
During her tenure at the clinic, Angie received three injections per week into her spine, plus IVs — derived from the umbilical cord of a baby whose blood was a match — into her hand. The injections were a bit more painful than she was led to believe.
“When she gave me the numbing medicine, she said it would just feel like a mosquito bite,” Angie related about the nurse who administered the treatment. ‘I told her, ‘If you were a mosquito in Minnesota, I’d kick your butt.’”
She also worked on an almost daily basis with a physical therapist — Señor Dick.
“His name was Ricardo, but I always said when I saw him, ‘Hola, Señor Dick. Como estas?’ It was the only thing I remember from 10th grade Spanish class. When I first saw him, I told him that my left side was weaker, and he told me we were going to make that side the strong side. That was his goal — to make the left side stronger.”
The Selbergs stayed in a hotel on the outside of Panama City, and a driver ferried them to the clinic each day through the crazy Panama traffic. Most of the people they encountered spoke English and made them feel at home in the foreign country. Although the treatments took up most of their time, Angie and Vicki did take an excursion to see the Panama Canal.
Since their return, Angie has noted marked improvements in several of her MS symptoms. She now only uses her cane to combat the wind and is able to walk longer stretches without it. In Panama, Angie was advised to quit the drug injections that were part of her previous treatment plan.
“I’ve noticed that lefty doesn’t shake as much as he used to,” noted Angie, referring to her left hand. “My bowels and bladder have gotten a little better. They were very much affected by the MS, so the stem cells are getting there and doing their work. They said in six months I should see the most improvement.”
That progress has given Angie hope that she will be among those patients in the 90 percent success rate touted by the clinic. The treatment is a one-time deal, so there is no need for her to return to Panama.
“I was afraid that I’ll be the 10 percent that doesn’t get anything from it,” she admitted. “It seems to be working for me. I’ve still got to wait three to six months, cross my fingers and pray to the big guy upstairs.”
The improvements that she has noticed have reignited Angie’s desire to pursue her Hollywood dream.
“My ultimate goal is to go to Hollywood to be a producer,” she said. “I want to try to get out there, get a job, have some fun.”
An admitted movie addict, much of spare Angie’s time — when she’s not undergoing physical therapy at Prairie Rehabilitation or working out at Empowered Fitness to build up strength — is spent watching DVDs. She’s quick to give her critique of the newest releases and is currently exploring the possibility of hosting a cable TV movie review show.
But eventually, after the six-month improvement period is over and she gets evaluated by her doctor, Angie wants to pack her bags for California.
“Wherever they’ll take me, I’ll go,” she said about getting her foot in the door of the movie industry. “I figure when I get out there and they meet me, they’ll fall in love with me. Don’t you agree?
“Look out, Hollywood, here I come.”
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