BUNDABERG mum Fiona Ward is hopefully five weeks away from walking without a cane or using a wheelchair for the first time in a year.
The mother of three and parishioner at Holy Rosary Church, Bundaberg, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis five years ago.
Her health has declined dramatically in the past year, leaving the former police officer wheelchair-bound and in early retirement.
Mrs Ward will complete a life-changing stem-cell treatment in Mexico over the next five weeks, which could see her walking before the end of the year.
The treatment, known as autologous hematopoietic stem-cell transplant, is not yet approved in Australia, but has received praise from the Vatican.
Mrs Ward said the journey towards the treatment could not have happened without generous donations from the Bundaberg community, who pledged money through her online fundraising page.
Since setting up the page last year, Mrs Ward has received more than $100,000 to finance the trip to Mexico, the cost of treatment and post-therapy rehabilitation.
“The local support has just been fantastic,” she said.
“We exceeded our total goal of $100,000 and the extra donations will cover ongoing medical stuff I’ll need in the rehabilitation process.”
Among the donations was $7500 from the students and staff at St Patrick’s Catholic school, Bundaberg, where Mrs Ward’s own children go and where she hopes to make her walking debut this year.
“My big goal is to get to the St Patrick’s school play in September,” she said.
“That will be my first outing.
“And since the very start I’ve said I want to be able to walk my kids into school.
“It would just be wonderful as I have my youngest starting Grade 1 this year and I would love to walk him into the classroom.”
Mrs Ward will fly to Mexico on March 23 and remain there to receive the therapy over five weeks.
It was an “emotional rollercoaster” in the lead-up to the flight, with a necessary haircut and a teary farewell to her three children.
“It’s five weeks away from my children but I know I’m doing the right thing,” she said.
Her immune system will be weakened and she will be homebound for the first three months.
“When I get back, for at least 100 days my immune system is compromised,” she said.
“I’ll be taking one step forward to build the strength back up every day after that.”
By Emilie Ng