The story of Cameron Clayton

Cameron was 3 years old when he presented to Tygerberg Children’s Hospital. At the time he suffered from sleepiness and poor coordination. The MRI brain scan showed inflammation of the myelin – the protective sheath covering the nerve fibres of his brain.  Fortunately, he responded well to the cortisone that was given to suppress the inflammation and he seemed to make a full recovery. Four months later, however, he again presented with headache and drowsiness. This time the MRI showed widespread inflammation of different parts of his brain. Once again, Cameron responded to cortisone and it was continued for 3 months. In spite of this, he again developed headaches and loss of vision several months later. At this stage his eyes and optic nerves were inflamed and high doses of cortisone had to be given to prevent him from losing his sight altogether. The rapid succession of these episodes identified the disease as multiple sclerosis (MS).

There is no cure for MS at present. Still, there are ways to slow progression of the disease and control the symptoms. The problem is that these remedies are costly, have potential side-effects, and don’t reverse the disease or repair the damage. When the case was discussed with a Professor at the Division of Chemical Pathology at Tygerberg Hospital –  Susan Janse van Rensburg – who has been studying MS for many years, she recommended checking Cameron’s blood iron levels. Iron and several other nutritional substances are essential for the formation of myelin. Their presence becomes critical when repair is needed – no bricks, no wall. Subsequent blood investigations confirmed extremely low iron levels. Daily supplementation began to build up the depleted body stores. Since reversing the iron deficiency, Cameron has been completely free of further episodes of inflammation.

Cameron was the first case of childhood MS in which the discovery and correction of iron deficiency led to a halt in the disease. Since then, this innovative approach of biochemical assessment with strategic supplementation of the identified critical nutritional deficiencies has benefited other children; adults too. It has also been expanded into other areas: DNA studies are now included as they offer additional opportunities for nutritional and lifestyle changes that may benefit patients with MS. These form part of an ethically approved research study at Tygerberg Hospital. This study is a vital part of the ongoing search for better ways to improve quality of life and disease outcomes in people with MS. Cameron may not realise it, but he was instrumental in this process. His recovery has become an important symbol of hope for many.