The Jewish lawyer who took part in a ground-breaking clinical trial of stem cell treatment for multiple sclerosis in Israel has revealed he has been overwhelmed with messages of support and offers of assistance after his experience was filmed for a Channel 4 documentary.
Mark Lewis allowed TV cameras to record his visits to the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem for a year of gruelling treatment around two rounds of stem-cell injections.
The pain and discomfort he suffered was worth it, he said, following the response from fellow MS sufferers who viewed the Cutting Edge film which was broadcast last month.
Speaking this week, Mr Lewis said: “I have been inundated with people contacting me. Some suggested other remedies that they thought might help, including one who suggested I convert to Christianity.
“But what made it so worthwhile was the many people who contacted me who had MS, who shared their stories with me — and who thanked me for convincing them to be able to tell their own family or friends about what is often an invisible illnesses.
“Unless sufferers are in the primary progressive stage and sitting in a wheelchair, you tend to think they look all right.
"And sufferers tend not to talk about the condition in an attempt to deny its existence.
“You try to protect your family and acquaintances and, to a certain extent, yourself from the reality a of having an incurable disease,” he said.
Mr Lewis recounted how a 20-year-old who had only recently been diagnosed had contacted him to talk about how to cope with having the disease.
“One person contacted me to say they had only been diagnosed only a few weeks ago," he revealed.
"You have to come to terms with your own mortality when you are diagnosed,” Mr Lewis said. “That can be absolutely horrible. Somebody telling you that you have something for which there is as yet no cure and no prognosis.”
The 52-year-old media lawyer who is well known in the Jewish community said he remains optimistic over the Hadassah trial, in which he was one of 48 patients to undergo the trial in which stem cells derived from his own bone marrow were injected into the spinal fluid.
His speech and mobility are considerable improved as a result of the treatment.
“The Channel 4 programme was titled The Search For a Miracle Cure – and there are now things I can do that I couldn’t do before," he said.
“The whole time I was thinking that I am going to get better. I am certainly an optimist.
"I was diagnosed as a 24-year-old. If I was diagnosed today at that age, I would certainly think there was going to be a cure in my lifetime.”
The results of the treatment are expected after the 48th patient completes their injections next summer, providing Hadassah can raise the £2.4 million it needs to complete the trial.
The medical centre has asked to do promotional work to raise awareness of its work.He has accepted the offer but told doctors he would have to fit their schedule around his legal role that he was still perfectly able to do — thanks in part to their efforts.
Another reason to be cheerful, Mr Lewis said, was the absence of any anti-Zionist attackson him following the documentary.
“I traditionally get lots of anti-Zionist abuse, particularly on Twitter,” he said. “There hasn’t been one person who has had a go at me because of Israel this time.
“I think opponents saw that this was a hospital that had everybody treating everybody. You had the sight of a Palestinian woman wearing a hijab being treated by the Christian doctor in an Israeli medical centre.”
With the Festival of Lights approaching, Mr Lewis reflected that it was the season for miracles.
He said: “I don’t put my treatment down to being a miracle of faith. But I do believe the treatment was miraculous, and if a miracle was going to happen Jerusalem is a particularly good place for it to do so.”
A UK-based spokesperson for the Hadassah hospital added: “The response from our end has been wonderful – we’ve received such positive feedback from our donors and supporters and wider members of the community.
“The programme has reignited energy with our supporters and donors, and there have been many grassroots and major donor fundraising suggestions which we are keen to roll out in the new year.”