Anchors Aweigh for Multiple Sclerosis

An Expert Interview With Mikkel Anthonisen, MD

Andrew N. Wilner, MD; Mikkel Anthonisen, MD


November 03, 2014

Editor's Note: While onsite at the Joint 2014 Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis/European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS/ECTRIMS) conference in Boston, Massachusetts, Medscape correspondent Andrew N. Wilner, MD, spoke with Mikkel Anthonisen, MD, faculty of health science at Copenhagen University and director and CEO of Oceans of Hope APS, both in Copenhagen, Denmark, about a new initiative to help multiple sclerosis (MS) patients recapture their identity through...sailing?

Dr Wilner: You are the founder of Sailing Sclerosis. Can you tell us what this is?

Dr Anthonisen: The initiative started with a man in the clinic who was in the best of his years—52 years old—and who had contracted primary progressive MS four years earlier. Before that, he had built his own boat to sail around the world. Now he felt that his dreams were shattered, and he was sitting there in despair and was bitter about life. He almost seemed ashamed of himself. He was a big, strong man who was capable of many things, and suddenly he had a walking disability. I told him that he had to go sailing again. This was the whole idea of the project: to help people recapture their identity, get back the energy and the willingness to try to do things, empower people to take up challenges, take care of these strong feelings of despair and fear, and say that it is okay.

Dr Wilner: You recently sailed from Copenhagen to Portugal, and then to Boston last week. All of the crew members on the boat had MS. Did any of them have any relapses or symptoms during this three-month voyage?

Dr Anthonisen: No. We have been very fortunate in not having any relapses on the boat. The boat is the torch, sailing around the world and creating a network between the MS Society and the yachting world, to make people go out sailing locally. The crew on the boat changes as we visit other countries and new people take over. If you look at the amount of time that we have been on the boat and the number of people who have sailed, statistically we should have had an attack by now. But this is not a scientific project.

Dr Wilner: Do you think that the fresh air might have been helpful?

Dr Anthonisen: Yes, I think so, and everybody on board says that it has changed their lives, the perception that they have of MS, and the place that MS has in their lives. It has the place that it should have—something that you have to live with, but it's not in charge anymore.

Dr Wilner: The boat, Oceans of Hope, is at Rowes Wharf right now, in Boston. What are your future plans?

Dr Anthonisen: We are in Boston for the MS Boston conference and also to say hello to our principal sponsor, the biotech company Biogen Idec, which has its headquarters here. We are moored at the Rowes Wharf marina in Boston. Go down and see the boat if you have the time. After this, we go down the seaboard of the United States and have a big event in New York City on November 11-16, and the same in Ft. Lauderdale on December 5-9, before we go to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific Ocean, and all the way around the world. We will be present at the other big MS conference next October in Barcelona.


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