It could literally be “make or break” for Mary Philippou as she prepares to fly to Russia to receive specialised treatment that will help her fight with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – a condition that she has managed the past 12 years but which has been worsening over the last few months.

She has just over a month to prepare for a difficult journey to Moscow before 30 November, where she is to receive a specialised Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant ion (HSCT) treatment that has been shown to halt the autoimmune disease in its tracks.

If she does not make it on time, the next opportunity to receive the treatment will be in 2023 and given the increasing frequency of the MS episodes she has recently experienced, delaying the treatment is no longer a safe option for her.

“My friend underwent the treatment three years ago. I could not go with her then as I could not afford it. She is doing well now, there was no damage, there is no sign of MS activity and her MRI scans are clear,” Ms Philippou told Neos Kosmos.

In Australia the HSCT treatment is under trial and restricted by a number of conditions.

“You have to have tried every single MS drug there is to be eligible for the treatment in Australia these affect immunity and some of them are so potent that some people have ended up more sick than they were before receiving the medication.

READ MORE: Young Greek Australian father needs our help in his fight against MS

Ms Philippou, a qualified neuroscientist, said overseas data on the treatment showed that it worked best on those who had not received medication for MS. She has only taken medication, in 2010, a year after she was first diagnosed with MS and the reaction was severe.

“I took the medication and I have lost my memory of that time, I do not recall my engagement party (her husband is Joseph Charbel) and my heart is still racing at 100 beats a minute and this goes up when I begin to move,” she said. With MS, the body thinks it is if fight mode and cannot “calm itself” which resulted in a feeling of chronic fatigue.

Over the years she managed MS without resorting to medication by managing her diet, exercising and other options.

“I grow my own food and tried to do all I could to be healthy. It was not enough to stop it (MS) but it did slow it down,” she said. And for many years that was enough.

“I had a big relapse when my son was six months old, at my pappou’s funeral. The damage hit me at my brain stem, a bad place . This gave me vertigo, dizziness and my right hand stopped working.

“I was put on steroids and some of the feeling came back,” said Ms Philippou who is the mother of two boys, Isaiah, aged five and Samuel who is eight months old.

Her most recent relapse on 25 August proved very damaging to her stem cell and she had to stop working. The danger of more frequent relapses is growing.

At the time she was running her own business in Moorabbin as a vascular sonographer, one of just 35 in Victoria. She had to stop.

“I’ve been working in ultrasound for 12 years. I started at The Alfred then moved into private clinics. I wanted to bridge the gap between public patients needing specialist scans without having to wait months to see a surgeon for the tests,” she said. She also spent a day in her working week training others in the role.

“I just want my energy back, I want to be a mum and a wife again. I love my job and my goal is to continue to help people.”

Complicating the whole process of getting to Moscow is the fact that Russia is experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases which makes the journey there more hazardous for her than it would normally be. She will be travelling with her mother, Anthi, looking after her and it will be first class to reduce risks of infection on the way to Russia and on the return.

With support from her family, a GoFund me page has been set up to help raise money to cover the costs of the treatment and travel – because of limited flights the cost is $20,000 one way which have increased the costs of the treatment.

READ MORE: MS survivor Ari Arambatzis given a second chance at life thanks to Russian MS treatment

“I have about $71,000 but the flights are a big cost. The goal is to raise $120,000,” she said. “I worked during the second lockdown (in Melbourne) until I got sick in August. I know what to do to protect myself (from infection during the journey). I am more concerned about getting to Russia.”

She will be in Moscow for a month. Starting with an injections in her thigh to stimulate the bones to produce stem cells. The harvested stem cells will be frozen in dry ice while she embarks on a course of chemotherapy .

The day after chemotherapy the stem cells will be injected in her body and she will go into isolation for two weeks. She will then embark on the journey home and a further long period of isolation.

Her recovery will consist of six to 12 months of strict isolation , constant blood tests for immune recovery, physiotherapy and lots of rest.

For all the complexities that the preparations pose Ms Philippou is optimistic.

“I am really excited to have it done. You can’t have regrets and just look forward.”

♦ Follow the link for more information on how you can contribute to getting Mary Philippou  to Russia before 30 November.