A dressage trainer and former international grand prix competitor is raising funds to travel to Mexico in the hope of treating the debilitating neurological condition that forced her to give up riding.
Tessa Thorne was diagnosed with the primary progressive form of multiple sclerosis (MS) nine years ago. She had to quit the sport in 2010 when she could “no longer keep my feet in the stirrups”.
The degenerative condition has now forced her to walk with a frame, but the 59-year-old — who is based in in Tetbury, Glos and continues to work as a trainer and judge — takes regular falls and fears she may soon end up in a wheelchair.
“I had always been active and had ridden grand prix internationally so when I was diagnosed it was a bit of a shock,” Tessa said. “Originally I thought it wouldn’t affect my riding, but when it started to I just thought ‘oh my God…’
“I’m used to a yard full of horses and running round here, there and everywhere — suddenly I need to think how to take my next step.”
While still working at the moment, Tessa admits it is “getting increasingly difficult to get around”.
“I can drive because it’s my left leg that’s more affected and I have an automatic — if it gets any worse I’ll have to get hand controls,” she said. “Pursuing this treatment is the only option if I want to keep on training.”
Tessa is hoping to raise £50,000 to travel to a South American clinic for Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) — a 28-day treatment (not generally available on the NHS) that uses chemotherapy to wipe out the immune system before re-introducing the patient’s own stem cells.
“MS is basically an auto-immune condition, where the immune system attacks itself, so the treatment is a bit like re-booting a computer,” Tessa explained. “It’s not a new treatment but it is a reasonably new approach to treating MS, which is having some fantastic results.
“Around 40% are noticeably better, 41% don’t get any worse and 19% have no difference, which is good enough odds for me — without it I won’t be walking soon as I am getting very wobbly.”
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Tessa added that while there are other drug treatments available, they are mostly aimed at the remitting-relapsing form of the disease and that patients with the progressive form had historically been “left to get on with it”.
“I’ve chosen Mexico as they have been doing this treatment for quite a while and I personally know two people who have been there and seen the results they have had first-hand. It’s an amazing clinic with an incredible doctor and there is nowhere like it in the UK,” she explained.
Tessa said until now her prognosis had made her “seriously depressed”, but the hope of successful treatment, as well as the fundraising efforts, had helped her to feel there is “light at the end of the tunnel”.
“If I don’t get any worse than I am now and if I have some ability to walk I’ll be very happy,” she said. “It would be wonderful to walk without the rollator [walking frame]. You can imagine what it’s like on arena surfaces and I fall over every day — people have just got used to it and pick me back up, but I’m covered in bruises and it does hurt.”
Tessa said the “pressure is on” as she plans to attend the Mexican clinic in February, but needs to raise the money two months in advance in order to make payment.
As well as launching a Just Giving page, a series of fundraisers have been organised, including clincs with dressage riders Isobel Wessels and Christian Landolt. There will also be an auction for two tickets for a box at Olympia to see the world cup dressage freestyle. View details of all events.
“I’ve got a team of people who’ve been absolutely brilliant — I am overwhelmed and humbled by everyone’s attitude,” she added.