Abu Dhabi: Hospital treats patients suffering from rare life-threatening disease

The disease threatens about 700,000 people worldwide annually, but when effectively treated, symptoms can be managed and patients can live a largely normal life

by

Ashwani Kumar

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Supplied photos
Supplied photos

Published: Wed 31 May 2023, 5:21 PM

In yet another milestone achievement for Abu Dhabi’s healthcare sector, a hospital has provided a new treatment for patients living with myasthenia gravis – a rare neuromuscular autoimmune disease.

Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC) is offering a new treatment for the disease, which affects 700,000 people worldwide annually. When effectively treated, symptoms can be managed and patients can live a largely normal life.


The multidisciplinary team of doctors have treated a woman who was diagnosed with the disease six months prior to her treatment. The 40-year-old woman is the first patient in the Mena region to be treated by the myasthenia gravis medication. Additionally, the hospital’s neurology department is currently caring for Noura Al-Jarad, a 33-year-old female patient who is suffering from the same autoimmune illness.

What is Myasthenia gravis?

The disease is characterised by weakness and rapid fatigue of any of the muscles under voluntary control, such as biceps, abdominals and hamstrings, and is caused by a breakdown in the normal communication between nerves and muscles. These muscles typically control functions that involve movement of the arms and legs in addition to breathing, which can impact daily functions such as eating and speaking.


Despite there being no known cure for myasthenia gravis, the condition can be effectively managed through medication and thymectomy surgery, that involves the removal of the thymus gland, which is located in the chest. Other possible sites of anomalous gland growth can also require an extensive procedure.

Through a collaborative approach led by medical experts, Dr Ahmed Shatila, neurology consultant and head of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at the hospital, initially conducted in-depth research into both patients’ cases to find the latest and most suitable treatment for each of them. He prescribed novel FDA-approved medications to them that have proven to vastly improve the quality of life of people living with myasthenia gravis.

Pictured: Dr Ahmed Shatila
Pictured: Dr Ahmed Shatila

The first patient’s treatment plan involved undergoing minimally invasive surgery to first remove her thymus gland due to a tumour, and proceeded with her new medication four weeks after her surgery. Meanwhile, Noura is currently undergoing treatment, and her thymus gland will be removed in the near future.

“Through access to the latest scientific advancements and valuable exchanges among our highly experienced medical team, we devised the best treatment for both patients. As part of SSMC’s dedicated approach to treatment, our multidisciplinary team will be working closely to monitor their medication plans and ultimately help them lead a better life,” Dr Shatila said.

Pictured: Noura Al-Jarad
Pictured: Noura Al-Jarad

As opposed to open surgery, the key-hole technique adopted for this patient’s thymectomy allowed her to benefit from reduced levels of post-operative pain in addition to a speedier recovery, a shorter hospital stay and a quick return to daily activities.

Noura is relieved and expresses her gratitude for receiving the right diagnosis and treatment.

“Right after I gave birth last year, I felt my eyelids drooping and faced difficulty while breathing. I went on to consult several doctors that placed me on ineffective treatments that resulted in me having multiple complications such as osteoporosis, significant weight gain and trouble in walking.

After a full year of continued suffering, I’m eternally grateful to Dr Shatila, who did his very best to secure the most suitable treatment for me right here in Abu Dhabi. I’m still in awe at how I was able to stand up independently and go to the bathroom on my own, only one day after starting my treatment plan, as I wasn’t able to do so previously.”

Pictured: Dr Matthew Gettman
Pictured: Dr Matthew Gettman

SSMC is a joint-venture partnership between Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA) and Mayo Clinic. Dr Matthew Gettman, chief medical officer of SSMC, added: “Having a highly specialised complex and serious care hospital in the heart of the Mena region allows for patients with rare diseases to receive premium care closer to home. I am extremely proud of the true sense of leadership displayed by our medical teams and for their relentless pursuit of placing patient needs first.

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