MS Center at CU Anschutz is turning life around after disease flips it upside down

In 2006, Christine Cillian’s life changed forever. She wouldn’t know how severely for another two years.

Christine, then 29, suffered a severe neurological attack that she had thought pointed to multiple sclerosis. Her arms fell limp. She couldn’t walk. Her body failed to function.    

“Everything turned upside down,” she says.

Doctors at the time said she didn’t have MS. But she learned in January 2008 they were wrong: An MRI revealed brain lesions and definitively diagnosed Christine with the disease.

Over several months, she grappled with anxiety, fatigue and depression—the “silent symptoms,” her husband, Brad, calls them.

They immediately turned to the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center at University of Colorado, where national-caliber research and treatment is paired with compassionate support and education. There, they started an “MS 101” class, sought a second opinion and soon began aggressive care.

Dr. Timothy Vollmer, a center co-director, told Christine that without intensive treatment, she faced severe disability. So Christine participated in clinical trials and took a drug developed for cancer but effective in treating MS. And she confronted her disease comprehensively with exercise, counseling, education and medicine.

“That’s how I want to treat my disease—aggressively,” Christine says.

Now life—upside down to this point—has began to right itself. The possibility of a brighter future seems within Christine’s reach.

As it’s done for many patients, the MS Center is slowing the disease and its effects with the patient-centered care it’s practiced for more than 30 years.

Brad says it’s revolutionizing future care within Colorado and across the nation.

“We’re lucky to have it in our backyard,” he says, adding that the center’s doctors hold weekend seminars around the country, so more than just Front Range patients benefit from the center’s expertise. “Everybody gets access to best-in-the-country care.”

That top-notch treatment happens, the Cillians note, partly because gifts support the center. Donor generosity enables staff to work toward earlier diagnoses, individualized care and research that identifies steps toward, perhaps, a cure.

MS changed everything for the Cillians. But the MS Center is changing everything again—her health, their marriage, their perspective—for the better.

In gratitude, the Cillians donate to the center, and Brad serves on its board.

“We’ve gotten so much out of the center that the bare minimum we can do is give back so that others can have that access,” he says.

That is access, Christine says, to more than innovative treatment; it’s a partnership with people who care deeply for their patients.

“It's not just a job for them,” she says. “These people are truly passionate about doing something about MS.”