Tina Ceroni

Fitness was Tina Ceroni’s life.

Ten years ago, she was a kinesiologist and rehabilitation assistant at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital.  She was in her mid-twenties and preparing to run a half Ironman triathlon.

Then Tina began getting leg cramps, but thought it was related to her workouts – exercise induced cramping. Then in 2006, Tina was waterskiing at a friend’s cottage when severe contractions started in her legs, and she had to be pulled out of the water. She was taken to the hospital where for eight hours she endured severe leg muscles cramps.

Tina underwent extensive testing at McMaster University Medical Centre in Hamilton, and sought advice from leading doctors in theUnited Kingdom, and the Mayo Clinic. She was diagnosed with Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS), a rare neuro-muscular disease with an autoimmune component that affects one in a million people. There is no cure for SPS.

Her symptoms progressed over the next few years with more severe cramping, and longer episodes of painful spasms, muscle contractions, muscle twitches, and severe rigidity in all of her body. Even her chest muscles contracted and she couldn’t breathe. These unpredictable contractions were triggered by emotion, stress, loud noises, and cold. Tina’s disease progressed rapidly and became life-threatening. She was hospitalized five to six times a month.

In December 2010, Tina was introduced to Dr. Harry Atkins, a blood bone marrow transplant specialist who had been working on stem cell transplants for people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, another autoimmune disease. In April 2011, Tina became the second candidate in the clinical trial for SPS, and started groundbreaking treatment. She underwent an autologous transplant, using her own stem cells as opposed to a donors’ cells. After having injections to encourage stem cell growth in her bone marrow, Dr. Atkins’ team harvested Tina’s stem cells, which were then purified. Tina was given a second progressive chemotherapy regime, which virtually destroyed most blood cells and bone marrow (where blood cells are formed), reducing her immune system to zero. Then the team transplanted her stem cells back into her blood, virtually rebooting her immune system.

Now, over two years later, Tina is symptom free. She hasn’t been admitted to a hospital in over a year. She is in remission.  Before the transplant, Tina says she had no hope for a future, now she has a future of hope. She is grateful to Dr. Atkins and his team of extraordinary doctors and nurses who saved her life.

Tina is paying her gratitude forward – recently, she held a fundraiser for stem cell research and surprised Dr. Atkins and his team with a cheque for $36,762.