An Eastern Michigan University senior is currently seeking donations to help pay for a stem cell transplant that could change life as she’s known it for the last seven years.
April Austin, 33, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after graduating from Washtenaw Community College in 2012. After starting to lose her vision and constantly battling sicknesses, doctors eventually discovered lesions on Austin’s brain.
The functions of everyday life have become increasingly challenging.
“I had to learn how to live blind,” Austin said. “Sometimes I can’t see at all, sometimes I’m sick at home in bed, sometimes I can’t breathe because my lungs don’t fully expand, sometimes I can’t even stand. At one point I didn’t want to live.”
Austin said she has tried three different medications to help slow down the progression of the lesions, but to no avail.
“They originally put me on one medication and I said, ‘I’m sick.’ I’d recover and then a few days later I’d be sick again,” Austin said. “I couldn’t live like that. They put me on another medication and it was ok for a couple years, but then it became ineffective.
“Now I’m on another medication which causes me to be sick and I get bladder infection after bladder infection … I’m constantly sick because of the medicine.”
Austin is now aiming for a hematopoietic stem cell transplant, which has been known to stop multiple sclerosis in its tracks. However, there is one factor that remains a barrier to getting the treatment.
“This treatment is very expensive, especially in the U.S.,“ Austin said. “It costs $70,000 in Ohio and $60,000 in Chicago. Most people go to Mexico because it’s cheaper.
"It’s an extensive treatment. You lose all your hair and go through the whole chemotherapy thing. Once they put your stem cells back, your body repairs itself ... I have a lot of friends that have got this treatment and are doing well.”
Austin has been accepted for treatment at Clinica Ruiz in Puebla, Mexico and is currently scheduled to have the procedure done in December as long as she can secure $54,000.
“It’s my only hope,” she said. “I’m going through with it either way, I have to ... If I can’t do it in December I’ll just keep pushing it back and trying to fund raise and save for it.”
Austin, who works as a substitute teacher at Ford Early Learning Center in Ypsilanti, is also a single mother trying to raise her 11-year-old autistic son, Jacob. She fears losing him due to her worsening condition.
“Taking care of Jacob is a lot of work,” Austin said. “If I continue to get sick I will definitely have to send him somewhere and I don’t want to have to do that.”
Although her heath is deteriorating as time progresses, Austin, who is now legally blind, said she is determined to graduate from EMU with a bachelors in social work, even if that means doing homework from a hospital bed or venturing through campus with her cane during harsh winter weather.
Someday Austin dreams of opening up several autism residential facilities to help those with autism transition to adulthood. She is also determined to continue taking care of her son. After all, she said he is her motivation when times get tough.
“Jacob and I have a really close relationship,” she said. “I see my life with him forever, even when he gets older. I’ve got to take care of him and that’s what god put me here for.”
Davida, Austin’s younger sister, said her sister is always helping others. She hopes now will be the time the favor is returned.
“She’s my inspiration,” Davida said. “I’m scared every day, not just for her, but for myself because I don’t want to lose her. I need her to get this surgery.
“Being her sister, it does affect me a lot, but not as much as it affects her. But she tries to stay strong. She’s a strong women and my motivation for everything.”
While Austin knows what lies ahead won’t be easy, she said she’s more than ready for the next step on her journey to wellness.
“I’m ready,” she said. “I know this is not going to be an easy journey, but I’m ready for it.”
To make a donation, visit https://au.gofundme.com/f/april039s-journey-to-wellness.