“You must have worked out what is wrong with you,” a consultant told Mark Lewis more than 25 years ago. “No”, he replied, “I’m a lawyer, not a doctor.”
The diagnosis was bleak, the intervening years of hope and rejection more tough than can be imagined as Lewis, who became one of Britain’s leading media lawyers, battled against secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS).
But as he revealed to an audience of Hadassah UK supporters in central London this week, a medical team of “won’t-take-no-for-an-answer” at the Jerusalem hospital are developing what might be a cure for his MS, and a group of other neurological conditions such as ALS and Parkinson’s.
And in conversation with TV director David Modell, who made a remarkable Channel 4 film about Lewis’s “search for a miracle cure”, the Manchester-born lawyer spoke frankly about MS and how it had affected his life — and what improvements there had been in his condition since taking part in the Hadassah clinical trial, as Patient 31, in the last year.
Lewis repeatedly referred to himself as a “battler, a person who will not be beaten”, but admitted that over the years since his diagnosis, aged 24, he had often been told that his was “the wrong type of MS” to qualify for further research or to be accepted onto a clinical trial.
Nevertheless, he said, he was determined to try and find a place on the Hadassah trial, whose team is headed by Professor Dimitrios Karussis. And it was that determination and mindset which led to his acceptance as one of 48 patients treated at Hadassah. Each patient has stem cells extracted from their own bone marrow, refined in the laboratory, and then re-injected, in a painful procedure, directly into the spine.
In David Modell’s film a dramatic immediate improvement is shown in Mark Lewis’s condition, but this has not been sustained — although the lawyer believes he is at least 20 per cent better than before the treatment.
Once all 48 patients have gone through the procedure the clinical trial will move on to a second level and Lewis is now hoping to be accepted for the next stage.
“I always wake up with the assumption that everything in my body works”, he confessed, adding that when he dreams, he does not have MS and can run fast. He spoke emotionally of the frustration caused by MS and its unpredictability, but added that he has a profound belief in the possibility of a cure — and that such a cure will be found by the Hadassah team in Jerusalem.
The fundraising event — to improve the facilities at Hadassah — was bookended by Rabbi Akiva Tatz and Mark Lewis’s partner, Mandy Blumenthal. Rabbi Tatz, who is a medical doctor who lectures at the Jewish Learning Exchange, reminded the audience of the kabbalistic imperative of seizing opportunities when they are presented; while Ms Blumenthal made the appeal, and encouraged the audience — some of whom were in wheelchairs or were using walking aids — to do whatever they could to help the charity.