DALLAS TWP. —Jackie Siperko has lived a quiet life in the Back Mountain, but soon her name will be on fliers all over the region.
Advertisements for a pulled pork barbecue and spaghetti dinner in honor of Siperko and an online fundraising campaign are designed to help her afford a hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) that could halt the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its central nervous system, damaging the spinal cord, brain and optic nerves. The disease can cause paralysis, blindness and the loss of basic body functions.
HSCT offers 42-year-old Siperko hope to halt the progression of MS.
Siperko, a former business analyst, enjoyed hiking at Ricketts Glen State Park, bike riding, roller blading and participating in a variety of outdoor activities with her husband, James, and sons, Dustin, 24, and Derek, 16.
Over 17 years, Siperko’s MS progressed to the point where she is numb from the waist down to her feet.
“Symptoms started slowly with numbness and weakness,” she said.
Unable to pursue her career, Siperko now stays at home spending her time researching treatments online and spinning wool or Alpaca fleece into thread.
Her research led her to the discovery of an “experimental” treatment known as hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
HSCT has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of MS, but has a proven track record, Siperko said.
“HSCT has been done 29 million times, 50,000 times a year,” Siperko said. “They recently started doing it with people with MS.”
The reason the FDA has not approved HSCT is that it is still in the study stage and the procedure is not expected to be approved for another decade, she said.
“I do not have a decade to wait,” Siperko said.
The transplant involves removing a patient’s stem cells, followed by a period of chemotherapy to wipe out the immune system and then doctors “insert your own stem cells,” she said.
Preliminary findings from a study conducted at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago found HSCT “may reverse disability and improve the quality of life for patients with relapsing-remitting MS.”
Siperko said she and her husband discussed and researched HSCT for over a year before making the decision to make an appointment.
“They do it all over the world,” Siperko said. “I’m on a waiting list for Moscow (Russia) but that is a two-year waiting list… I’m going to Mexico in June.”
Siperko has an appointment to go to Clínica y Laboratorios Ruiz in Puebla, Pue, Mexico, on June 19.
The transplant costs $54,500, which includes the transplant, an apartment, which needs to be sanitized twice a day, and special dietary meals. The expense does not include airfare, physical therapy, her husband’s meals and four infusions costing $1,500 each once she returns home.
“I am trying to raise as much as possible,” Siperko said, noting the HSCT procedure needs to be paid in full by April.
Her fundraising has raised much interest.
“My church (St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Dallas) has been very supportive,” Siperko said. “Members are making baskets for a raffle and baking.”
Family members are gearing up to spend some serious time in the kitchen to prepare food for the pulled pork barbecue and spaghetti dinner.
The pulled pork barbecue will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 474 Yalick Road, Dallas Township.
Admission is $10 per adult and $8 for children 12 years old and younger.
The menu includes pulled pork barbecue, homemade macaroni salad, sides, desserts and drinks.
A basket raffle will also be held.
The spaghetti dinner is slated for 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29 at the Northmoreland Township Fire Hall, 1618 Demunds Road, Tunkhannock.
Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 years old and younger.
The menu includes spaghetti, salad, roll, dessert and beverages.
Siperko also has an online fundraising campaign through HelpHOPELive.org.
The nonprofit medical fundraising organization will distribute funds to pay Siperko’s medical expenses directly from her HelpHOPELive account.
“I’ve been fundraising now for little over a month, and I have over $3,600,” Siperko said. “It is a start.”
Siperko said her oldest son, Dustin, who is serving in the U.S. Navy, contacted his former sensei at NEPA Mixed Martial Arts in Larksville and asked if he could help raise funds. His sensei will donate the proceeds from a Trunk-or-Treat event scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15 at NEPA Mixed Martial Arts, 213 East Luzerne Ave., Larksville.
“We are blown away by the support we are getting,” she said.
Reach Eileen Godin at 570-991-6387 or on Twitter @TLNews.