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Making a one in a million diagnosis

“I’ve been given a second chance, and I feel so blessed, so grateful to Dr Geffen and all the Mater people involved in giving me my life back.”
Rhonda, diagnosed with Stiff Person Syndrome

Rhonda Hodges suffered from ongoing tremors in her arms and spasms in her legs until one day, she arrived home from work and collapsed into her husband’s arms. For 12 long years she had suffered chronic pain and was now unable to walk.

Her condition had gone undiagnosed and it was baffling medical experts everywhere—no one had a long-lasting solution or treatment that could help her.

That was until a chance encounter connected Rhonda with Mater’s rehabilitation specialist Dr Saul Geffen. The initial treatments he trialled were not helping Rhonda greatly so Dr Geffen arranged for her to be admitted to the Mater Centre for Neurosciences.

After a series of tests, Rhonda was diagnosed with Stiff Person Syndrome, a rare acquired neurological disorder shown by progressive muscle stiffness—rigidity—and repeated episodes of painful muscle spasms. It affects just one in every one million people.

Mater’s neuroscience specialists Dr Stefan Blum and Dr Rob Campbell devised a trial treatment plan for Rhonda that involved injecting a dose of a muscle relaxant into her spinal fluid. The results proved life-changing for her.

“I woke up in the morning and I could wiggle my toes…I was just so happy,” Rhonda said.

Rhonda then underwent additional tests, and for the first time in the treatment of Stiff Person Syndrome in Australia, she had a pump inserted into her spinal cord which is monitored and replaced every three months. Today, Rhonda is walking again and enjoying the full kind of happy life the 61-year-old once thought was impossible.

Did you know? Mater opened its first neurosurgery department back in 1954. More than 60 years later, the staff at Mater’s Centre for Neurosciences now sees more than 2600 patients each year, treating them for a range of neurological conditions including stroke and epilepsy, and providing specialist services in neurosurgery, neurology and spinal surgery.

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