On Centre: Bald Eagle Area | To Russia, with love and hope

February 4, 2014 

Diana Rees

When Diana Rees announced weeks ago that she was going to Russia, relatives and friends wondered if she had a ticket to Sochi.

“We all thought, ‘Is it for the Olympics?’ ” said her cousin, Laurie Hall.

Then they found out that a bigger event awaits.

This spring, Rees, 56, of Snow Shoe, will head to Moscow for a hematopoietic stem cell transplant at the National Pirogev Medical Surgical Center. She and her family hope the six-week program run by the A.A. Maximov department of hematology and cellular therapy can stall or even reverse her multiple sclerosis.

As her symptoms worsened last year, Rees researched the stem cell procedure. It’s not common in the United States yet, but she found, in Chicago, one of the few domestic clinics.

But there were three problems.

Rees, whose family owns the Rees’ Exit 22 Truck Stop in Snow Shoe, is one year past the clinic’s age cutoff, and it primarily treats a different MS phase than hers. It also costs $150,000.

The Russian clinic, on the other hand, will accept her for $40,000.

“I know everyone is wondering why we are going all the way to Russia for the stem cell transplant,” wrote Rees’ daughter, Brittany, on the blog about the upcoming journey, www.knockoutms2014.com.

“I will tell you that it wasn’t an easy decision. We all wish that we could stay in the country to get this procedure completed.”

Rees begins April 16. Meanwhile, a community rallies behind her.

Residents are organizing fundraisers to help the Rees family pay for the treatment, airfare, hotel rooms and other expenses.

For starters, several Snow Shoe residents are holding a hoagie sale. Orders for $7 sandwiches will be taken until Feb. 19, with delivery on Feb. 27.

The group also is selling $12 black T-shirts that say “Moscow, Knock out MS 2014.” For both the hoagies and the shirts, contact Tom Taylor at 571-2317 or tdtay1977@hotmail.com.

Also in the works is cash bingo for 1 p.m. March 9 at the Our Lady of the Snow Skating Rink in Snow Shoe.

“She’s one of our own,” Taylor said. “We’ll do what we can do.”

Hall is planning a Thirty-One/Pink Zebra sale of purses and candles from noon to 3 p.m. on either March 22 or March 29 at the Snow Shoe Township Building.

In addition, she hopes to have a benefit flower sale for Rees around Easter. To help, contact Hall at lauriehall23@gmail.com.

“She is just the nicest person,” Hall said, noting Rees is also her godmother.

“She has a little grandbaby (a 2-year-old girl). She just wants to be able to get down on the floor and play with the baby, to drive as she did before. She just wants to be Diana again, and we’re going to try to help her do that.”

In Moscow, Rees’ stem cells will be stimulated, collected and frozen before she undergoes chemotherapy to shut down her existing immune system. Her stem cells then will be returned to her body intravenously to help her immune system recover.

Within 18 months, 80 percent of patients see a reversal of 45 to 80 percent of their previous symptoms, according to Rees’ blog, where donations can be made.

Rees is giving it a shot.

Her husband, Greg, and her three children, Brittany, Jonathan and Nick, will be with her when she starts, though only Brittany can stay the whole time.

None has traveled outside the country before, Hall said.

But on their first trip, when they take off for hope waiting halfway around the world, they’ll have many companions in spirit.

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at crosenbl@centredaily.com or 231-4620.

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