Local woman risks her life with stem cell transplant to fight rare disease

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

More and more people are part of clinical trials for stem cell transplants, considered risky procedures that could help cure autoimmune diseases.

We found a Princeton, Illinois woman willing to take the risk, so she can get better.

Until five years ago, Jaime Polhemus had a pretty normal life.  She's the mom of three boys, and her husband Terry is a police officer for Princeton Police Department.Jaime2

Then, she didn't start feeling so normal. After several tests and trips to different specialists, Jaime was finally diagnosed with Stiff Person Syndrome or SPS.  It's an autoimmune disease so rare, only one person in a million is affected by it.

"I started out with general stiffness and a lot of fatigue and just pain and then as time went on I started getting really bad," said Jaime.  "The movements got so bad, and the spasms, that they were just 24 hours a day, non-stop for two weeks."

Jaime says she feels like a prisoner; she's forced to stay inside most days because anything can trigger the muscle spasms.

"Just having the kids hug you or make extra noise in the background...taking a shower can flare the spasms. Being in public is really difficult because there's so many unexpected noises," Jaime said.

At least every three months they have to drive to Rochester, MN to the Mayo Clinic. It's the first autoimmune clinic in the U.S., and the clinic tests 150,000 people a year.Jaime

Dr. Sean Pittock diagnosed Jaime.

"Despite being on really high dosages of the drug, we're not really getting the response that we need," Dr. Pittock said.  "And unfortunately, in those cases, we're at a juncture of where we have to make a decision."

A decision on whether or not Jaime should have a stem cell transplant.

"I think at one point we were like, 'Eh,' and then, when it got so bad, then she was like, 'Really, what do I have left?" said Terry.

Jaime and Terry discovered Dr. Richard Burt, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, was has been treating autoimmune diseases for the past 26 years; he's the country's leader for stem cell transplant for autoimmune diseases.

"There's been so much success for Scleroderma, Lupus, MS, all the other diseases autoimmune related; that it gave me - again - some hope, seeing that people have been through it and that they're healing or have remissions or are cured," said Jaime.

Feeling like they had run out of options, they decided Jaime would have the transplant.  Now, they're preparing for their biggest fight yet.

"I think it's going to all turn out okay. It's just getting through it," said Terry.

Click here to see Jaime's journey through the stem cell transplant and how's she's doing.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.