Natalie Adams just smiles at people who stare at her.

She is stunning. Well-dressed, immaculately made-up and even the turban adorning her head could easily be a classy accessory.

But the head covering is a giveaway. She knows people assume she has undergone chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

Nat has multiple sclerosis (MS). She has returned home from a month-long in Russia where she underwent hematopoietic stem cell therapy (HSCT) which included harsh chemotherapy.

 Stem cell transplant day. Photo / Supplied
Stem cell transplant day. Photo / Supplied

HSCT is a treatment for people with various autoimmune diseases such as MS. New Zealand carries out HSCT for cancer patients but not MS. Nat returned to Mount Maunganui in late September and is recovering from her life-changing stay at Pirogov Hospital.

"I still can't believe I did it," she says, looking back.

HSCT is a chemotherapy-based medical procedure that deletes the immune system and reboots it. Stem cells are taken from the blood before chemotherapy then wipes out immune cells.

The purified stem cells are transferred back and the hope is the immune system will lose the urge to attack the body to halt the progression of MS.

The treatment was arduous and sometimes painful. There are gaps in her memory from being on pain relief. The transplant of stem cells was the scariest day for Nat. The treatment also included nine days in isolation.

Nat has faith she will be MS-free.

"I didn't really know how full-on it was going to be. But I have no regrets and I am confident this will help me."

Nat says already, she has no fatigue.


"Fatigue was my biggest problem. I already feel better in my head. I just need to get the strength in my body back up to match my mind."

Nat was diagnosed with repetitive relapsing multiple sclerosis (RRMS) in 2011. RRMS means patients have attacks, a loss of function, and recover.

Her first symptom was the loss of sight in her right eye (optic neuritis) over 10 days in 2011.

"Looking back there were bizarre happenings — I was uncontrollable itchy for a week, I had a weird sensation in my ear and a crawling sensation over my body. But the worst thing was fatigue."

By April 2017, the fatigue never left her. She knew she had to do something.

"The thought of being in a wheelchair ... I would go to all lengths to avoid that.

"While it's not the end of my life (if that happened) I didn't want to be a spectator in my life. I have my girls to look after and I don't want to be a burden.

"This is the best and only treatment out there at the moment that can halt the disease."

Nat says healing of existing symptomatic damage is a bonus although not guaranteed.

"Some patients get fabulous healing, others see small healing and some do not get any healing which is why it is encouraged to have it sooner rather than later when more damage is done to the body."

Natalie Adams with daughters Issy, 10, and Tovah, 9. Photo / Salina Galvan Photography
Natalie Adams with daughters Issy, 10, and Tovah, 9. Photo / Salina Galvan Photography

Dr Denis Fedorenko from Pirogov Hospital gave Nat a 95 per cent chance of success.

Nat thanked cousin and "guardian angel" Tres and her parents.

There's also the huge number of people who gave to her cause. $100,000 was raised through Givealittle. Two fundraisers were held — Nat organised a dinner and her employers Augustine donated profits from an event.

Nat wants to get back to work and looks forward to getting outside with her girls Issy, 10, and Tovah, 9.

"I feel like I don't have to worry about it anymore. I have done all I can now. I know for sure HSCT is certainly not going to make it any worse. I have faith."