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One in a Million: Husband and Wife Both Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis

The tests results were in, and Lauren Adkins hurriedly checked her smartphone to review her health information.

When she read the diagnosis – multiple sclerosis (MS) – the 30-year-old mother of two couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. The autoimmune condition that impacts the central nervous system, and which affects less than one-half of one percent of Americans, had been detected in her – just as it had been eight years earlier in her husband, Josh.

“I said to Josh, ‘You’re never going to believe this!” recalls Lauren, who underwent an MRI in the fall of 2023 after suddenly experiencing symptoms including slurred speech and blurred vision, during a shopping trip with a friend. “But the diagnosis was strangely comforting for me. I knew what to expect, and that there are treatments that work, because of what Josh has been through.” 

Both Lauren and Josh, childhood sweethearts who married in 2014 and live in their hometown of Mansfield, Ohio, have relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). The most common form of MS, RRMS isn’t curable. However, its symptoms can usually be successfully treated through one of several medications that have been developed over the past few decades.

Josh and Lauren Adkins on vacation with their two children.
Lauren and Josh with their son and daughter on vacation. (Courtesy: Lauren and Josh Adkins)

Neurologist Robert Bermel, MD, who has been treating Josh at the Cleveland Clinic Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis since his diagnosis, says the variety and efficacy of treatment options have advanced.

“MS is a very heterogeneous disease. It’s different for everybody. That means to be effective, we have to personalize the treatment approach,” he says. “Today, as a neurologist, I have the good fortune of possibly telling a newly diagnosed patient we’re not going to let you end up in a wheelchair. That’s not something we could have done 25 years ago.” 

Josh, now 33, was worried about his long-term health, as he sat nervously waiting for his first appointment with Dr. Bermel in 2014. “I was definitely scared at first. I didn’t know what to expect but I learned there are different kinds of MS, and with proper medication and lifestyle choices, MS doesn’t have to be debilitating.”

In 2015, a year after he and Lauren were married, Josh experienced symptoms quite suddenly. While at work on the assembly line in a manufacturing plant, he felt an excruciating headache. Because it was hot in the plant, Josh assumed he’d gotten overheated. After a brief rest, he returned to work, but the headache soon returned, and he struggled to complete his shift.

Josh and Lauren feel maintaining a healthy diet and exercising has helped them manage their multiple sclerosis.
Josh and Lauren say maintaining a healthy diet and exercising has helped them manage their MS symptoms. (Courtesy: Lauren and Josh Adkins)

Driving home, Josh also experienced double vision and finished the drive with one eye closed. Two doctors who examined him in the next week believed Josh was suffering from an ocular migraine. When the pain and double vision persisted, blood work and an MRI revealed the actual cause: RRMS.

While the initial treatment Josh received was ineffective, and he had to wear an eye patch for six months as his vision slowly returned, Dr. Bermel was able to enroll him in a clinical trial for another medication, administered by infusion, once every six months.

Josh has been using the medication, ocrelizumab, ever since. It has successfully kept his symptoms at bay, although he often notices mild headaches, vision problems and/or leg cramping in the weeks leading up to his semi-annual infusion.

“I could tell a difference right away, the first time I got it,” recalls Josh, who like Lauren continues to serve in the Ohio Air National Guard. “I have MS but I can still do the things I enjoy. I run, hunt and golf. Sometimes I have to be careful, because heat triggers my symptoms, but I don’t let that get me down.” 

Josh and Lauren Adkins serve in the Ohio Air National Guard.
Josh and Lauren serve in the Ohio Air National Guard. (Courtesy: Lauren and Josh Adkins)

While Lauren has only been diagnosed with and treated for RRMS for a few months, she, too, has seen positive effects from her treatment. She participates in a different clinical trial through the center. Rather than an infusion, Lauren takes a daily pill called ozanimod as her form of medication.

“While we realize MS isn’t the same for everyone, we follow the right steps – medicine, exercise and a healthy diet – and, so far, that has made all the difference for us,” Lauren states.

Because medication has virtually eliminated their symptoms, Josh and Lauren don’t believe their children, a 5-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, have even noticed they have the condition.

Dr. Bermel commends Lauren, Josh and the thousands of other patients who have been willing to participate in clinical trials. “Our understanding of MS continues to evolve, and that speaks to the commitment of people like Lauren and Josh whose involvement in research trials has led to the development of effective treatments for MS.”

Josh and Lauren are eager to share their story to alleviate fears of individuals who are newly diagnosed. Says Josh, “I’ve had MS for almost 10 years and I’ve been in good hands that whole time. If you get the right treatment, and stay positive, MS doesn’t have to define you.”

Related Institutes: Neurological Institute
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