Expert Neurologic Care Gives Bill the Ingredients for a Better Life

These days, it’s not uncommon to find Bill Emerson in the kitchen, making his special casserole or chicken parmigiana, or refining his prowess at baking bread.


That’s a far cry from what he could accomplish just a few short months ago. Bill, 54, has progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.

The disease robbed Bill’s ability to do the things he enjoyed, like exercising, playing the drums, and working in the yard. But thanks to Virtua Health’s neuroscience partnership with Penn Medicine, Bill is regaining function and improving his quality of life.

“If I didn’t go to the doctor and physical therapist, I’d be in a wheelchair,” said Bill. “They really care. They’re very thorough, the scheduling is great. We’ve made progress.”

Bill began experiencing symptoms of MS 15 years ago, such as numbness and tingling in his legs. But the episodes were short-lived, and he would regain full sensation. That began to change in 2015, and after extensive blood work and imaging, he was diagnosed with the condition in December 2017.

Working with Virtua neurologist Ricardo Mabanta, MD, Bill started a new infusion medication that stopped the spread of lesions in his brain and spine. He also began seeing Penn MS specialist Rachel Brandstadter, MD.

“Dr. Brandstadter is aggressive with his treatment using different medications and therapies. If something is not working or is making him not feel well, she will try something else,” said Bill’s wife, Maria Emerson. “She is an expert in the field of MS. Dr. Brandstadter is not just treating the disease, she is individualizing her care for my husband.”

Dr. Brandstadter said her approach to modern multiple sclerosis care focuses on two main treatment pathways, including disease modification and symptom management.

“I aim to prevent worsening of multiple sclerosis with detailed consideration for, and use of, the expanding list of immune therapies available in the field. I also work with my patients and their families to keep a sharp focus on boosting daily functioning and well-being through aggressive symptom management,” such as strengthening and balance training, managing spasticity, treating bladder symptoms, addressing mood and fatigue, and cognitive symptoms, said Dr. Brandstadter. “I aim to be thoughtful about a patient’s overall health as it relates to their multiple sclerosis, and enjoy building longitudinal relationships with patients and families.”

Bill also has benefitted from physical therapy provided by Virtua’s Kesha Hutton. Prior to therapy, Bill would frequently lose his balance and fall, fracturing ribs and suffering other injuries. Now, he can perform tasks such as picking up the television remote control off the floor and feeding his cats.

“She’s really special,” Bill said of Kesha. “Kesha has a plan for me every time I go. She’s always surprising me. She always has something to challenge me. I always feel better after I go.”
Kesha assessed Bill’s abnormal movement patterns and areas of weakness to develop individualized goals and improve his overall function. This has included advancing his even-weight-bearing during functional transfers, proprioceptive awareness (position in space), core strength, postural stabilization, and endurance.

“We build upon his progress and successes as we work towards improving independence during tasks such as transferring, safely walking short distances, and strategies to decrease risk of falling and improving overall balance,” she said.

Bill’s progress is evident at home.

“He is doing things that he hadn’t been able to do in a couple of years,” said Maria. “He moves more quickly. He has better balance.”

Though Bill knows he has a long road ahead, Penn Medicine and Virtua Health have provided him the ingredients for a better life.

“I had to give up everything I like to do,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get back to some of them.”

The Expert Care You Deserve
The Penn Medicine Virtua Health Neurosciences Program brings the highest quality neurologic care close to home. Learn how our specialists can help you. Call 888-847-8823 for an appointment.

Updated January 29, 2021

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