U of M Alumnus Runs 600 Miles to Raise Awareness for Multiple Sclerosis

Chad Mickelson is running 600 miles from the southeast corner of Minnesota to the northwest tip. His motivation to do so came from a recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS); MS is a progressively degenerative neurological disorder which attacks the myelin surrounding nerves that carry information to and from the brain. Myelin acts as an insulator to improve nerve conductivity and can affect one’s ability to sense, think, activate muscles and see.

Mickelson explained, “The run itself is a personal thing for me. I was going to do it no matter what, but MS affects a lot of people here in Minnesota. It’s been really interesting how many strangers I met during this run who have a family member or friend with MS; additionally, there are a lot of people living with MS you might not even realize. Bringing awareness to what the disease is and also bringing awareness to what the University of Minnesota has to offer for treatment is a goal of this run, because I think people don’t realize the resources that are available right here.”

After serving in the Navy for over a decade, Chad attended the U of M to obtain a doctorate of physical therapy in 2018. The VA allowed him to come back to the University of Minnesota, where he will be receiving treatment at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR), home to some of the most advanced magnetic resonance instrumentation in the world and a leader in advanced biomedical imaging. Researchers at the CMRR were the first in the world to perform magnetic resonance imaging of the human body with a 10.5 Tesla magnet - a magnetic field strength 10 times greater than a standard MRI.

The center is comprehensive and includes services such as physical therapy, urology and pain management, among others. Everything that a patient may need to promote the highest quality of life while living with the disease is available. Flavia Nelson, MD, Professor with the Department of Neurology, has dedicated her life to studying and treating MS and will be working with Chad to develop a treatment plan that’s best for him. Nelson stated, “At our center, which is a comprehensive MS center affiliated with the National MS Society, we try to tailor the treatment to each particular patient based on how aggressive the disease is.”

Nelson reiterated Chad’s message about increasing awareness for MS and the treatment options that are becoming available. “What I would like people to know is that MS is now treatable. If you’re able to involve an MS expert in your care it’s helpful because there are a lot of decisions that need to be made along the way; it’s a chronic disease and sometimes those decisions are going to change the outcomes. It’s a complicated disease and not that easy to manage, so it’s better to have an MS expert in your corner and hopefully patients do realize that we have that kind of team here.”

Mickelson will have several treatment options once his run is complete, including a clinical trial for stem cell transplants or high-efficacy medication. Researchers at the CMRR are working to understand which treatment plans produce the best long-term outcomes. Stem cell transplants are invasive and expensive, so discovering whether or not they’re worth pursuing (Nelson believes they are), needs to be demonstrated through evidence. 

Mickelson will have plenty of time to consider his options as he runs roughly a marathon a day across Minnesota. He stated, “My theme for this is ‘try,’ that’s all we can ask at times. Sometimes people can’t ‘just do it’, it’s just a bridge too far, but we can all ‘try’. I’m not trying to have people compare themselves to me because there are certainly people that are much better athletes than me but everyday that I go out there and compare myself to who I was yesterday. I’m trying to be better than that, which I guess would be the message, that we can be more than we were yesterday so we owe it to ourselves to try. To support MS research and to see more of Chad’s journey visit his website at https://n-of-1.org/ or his Facebook: @TrybyChadMickelson

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