MS is not a condition that just affects adults; although rare, it can happen in children too. These children are diagnosed and treated by paediatric neurologists. Here we chat to Evangeline Wassmer, paediatric neurologist at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, to hear what inspired her to take on this role and to learn more about the new group of specialist centres providing support and treatment for young people with MS.
Why did you want to become a paediatric neurologist?
When I was at medical school I was always fascinated by how the brain works. Neurology is an exciting field as there have been so many new developments, challenges and opportunities. Understanding why people have neurological symptoms and being able to make a specific diagnosis of neurological conditions like MS has become possible thanks to neuroimaging and other new innovations. Treatment opportunities are an ever expanding field – these are exciting times for paediatric neurology.
Can you explain what your role involves and what a typical day looks like for you at the hospital?
I look after many children with neurological conditions. I see children with learning difficulties, dementia, seizures, movement disorders, walking difficulties, strokes and multiple sclerosis. My day usually starts around 7.30am when I check my emails and post. We will often have a multi-disciplinary meeting where a few neurologists, radiologists and nurses meet to discuss children who have more complex care and treatment needs. Then I will do a ward round and see children who are admitted to hospital with neurological problems. I will see them in clinic and give advice regarding diagnosis, care and treatment. I try to listen and understand what the needs of these children are, and also try to help. Many neurological conditions do not have a cure and therefore often we can only help with managing the symptoms.
How does MS differ in young people compared to adults?
The symptoms of MS in young people are often quite similar to the symptoms seen in adults. However younger children are often more severely affected when they have a relapse, and can sometimes even require intensive care. The relapses are often more frequent in young people but they tend to recover more quickly. Children are also at a very different point in their lives to adults. They have to go to school and often can’t take time out to adjust to a diagnosis of MS. Having relapses and being tired can sometimes make it difficult to attend school full time. Some children also find it difficult to concentrate and others find learning more difficult because of memory difficulties and problems processing information.
What support is out there for young people with MS?
There is now a national service for paediatric MS. There are five centres (made up of seven hospitals) covering the UK. These hospitals are based in Cambridge, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool. For many years the centres have been working together as the UK Childhood Inflammatory Demyelinating Working Group (UK-CID) which meets regularly. We have developed information sheets, we discuss complex patients, and carry out research to better understand the condition. NHS England has now acknowledged paediatric MS as a rare disease service, and has facilitated this service development and collaboration even further. MS nurses for children with MS are being recruited and more support and information is now available.
What do you find the most rewarding aspect of your role?
I will always remember my first encounter with a young girl with MS. She had so many questions, some of which I couldn’t answer. “Am I the only one to have childhood onset MS? Why me? Is there any treatment? What does it mean for my future?” She inspired me to be part of the set up and establishment of a paediatric MS service in the UK and to find answers to her important questions.
What advice would you give to a young person who’s recently been diagnosed?
Ask questions and never give up on your hopes and dreams. Together we will work to achieve them; to reach your education goals and vocational potential, and to help you live an exceptional life.
Information and support for young people with MS can be found on our MSTV YouTube channel.
Young people and MS
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