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UC Irvine medical study gives hope to Orange County mom with ALS

She began seeing a physical therapist and stopped working out.

Then in early 2017 came the limp — what the therapist termed “drop foot.”

The next several months were filled with doctor visits, nerve tests, a broken leg and further weakening of Wittenberg’s limbs. By March of that year, the mother of two could no longer open a pickle jar.

The study extracts patients’ stem cells, which will be treated with NurOwn — a cell therapy for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases — and then injected back into patients’ bodies three times over six months.

Then on Aug. 28, Wittenberg, 47, of Trabuco Canyon received an official diagnosis: she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“It was unbelievable to get that answer,” Wittenberg said.

But Wittenberg’s knowledge of the disease was minimal, so she had to consult Google, where she found out it’s a neurodegenerative disorder in which muscular regions of the body slowly begin to shut down until patients lose the ability to move, speak or swallow. The afflicted usually die within two to five years.

Wittenberg also learned there isn’t really a way to treat the disease.

In the wake of the diagnosis, Wittenberg and her husband, Joel, were left confused and craving answers. Wittenberg hadn’t so much as broken a bone before the onset of the disease. She now was in a wheelchair.

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