Local man hopes new multiple sclerosis drug gives him his life back

A Washington County man has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which will make his physical job difficult and possibly impossible, but a new medication could help maintain his quality of life.

Jeff Brandner first noticed symptoms when he was at the EAA air show last year.

“Well, initially I just started limping,” he said. “It was rainy and dreary that day and I was limping all day long. No pain in my leg.”

Brandner showed a glimpse of dry humor when we asked him what he did next.

“Well, I’m a man, so I did nothing,” he said. “Then my sister yelled at me and then I went to the doctor.”

Doctors ordered an MRI taking a close look at Brandner’s brain and spinal cord. Lesions were clearly visible. Doctors told Brandner he had primary progressive multiple sclerosis. It is an insidious disease that robs patients of many physical abilities and can leave them wheelchair bound.

“I cried like a little girl as soon as he told me,” Brandner said, referring to the diagnosis shared by his neurologist, Dr. Akram Dastagir of Aurora Healthcare.

Brandner is only 48-years-old and works in the Washington County Highway Department. It is a physical job characterized by lots of walking, lifting, climbing and pounding with a jackhammer.

“I like that kind of work, physical work,” Brandner said. “I like the guys I work with. They’re awesome. It’s like you’re not going to work. I’m going to hang out with my buddies and I’m getting paid for it.”

Needless to say, Brandner would like to continue working. He knows multiple sclerosis could well make that impossible.

But in recent months, the FDA approved the first drug for the treatment of primary progressive MS called Ocrevus.

“What’s unique to Ocrevus is it’s the only approved FDA medication for primary progressive MS,” Dastagir said. “What’s really exciting is we have this new medication that’s been approved and it’s been showing benefit in clinical trials.”

Dastagir is quick to point out that Ocrevus is not a cure. In patients with primary progressive MS, patients have progressive deterioration of their physical faculties, an increase in disability. In clinical trials, Ocrevus has shown an ability to slow that progression and decrease disability by roughly 25 percent in patients.

Dastagir is now treating about half a dozen of his MS patients with Ocrevus and is optimistic about the impact the drug will have. All told, roughly 50 Aurora Healthcare patients are now taking the newly approved drug which is delivered twice a year by infusion and requires vigilant follow up.

Brandner is optimistic.

“I want to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I want to keep working for as long as I can. I want to work ‘til I’m 65, retire and live a long, healthy life.”

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