Dr. Hutton's MS patient competes in Paralympics

Oct. 1, 2012

Erika Baitenmann and her horse, Casablanca.
Erika Baitenmann and her horse, Casablanca.

When Erika Baitenmann sits tall on Casablanca with the horse nice and square and his hooves lined up perfectly for competition, she is herself again. She is the same sleek young athlete who was raised riding horses.

Baitenmann, who lives on a ranch on the outskirts of Mexico City, suffers from multiple sclerosis, a chronic, often disabling disease that affects the nervous systems of 2.5 million people worldwide.

She was diagnosed with MS in 2006 by Dr. George Hutton, an associate professor of neurology at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the Maxine Mesinger Comprehensive Care Center. She put her love of riding on hold, but Baitenmann has improved so much since that time that she was able to compete in the 2012 International Paralympics in England. She placed 12th out of more than 20 competitors from around the world.

Seeing improvement

"From the very first time I got back on the horse, I felt better," Baitenmann said. "I see something at the edge of the forest, and I go to the edge of the forest. I can't do that when I am walking anymore. Riding gives me the freedom to go at the pace I want again."

"I feel like Erika is responding well to treatments. She is definitely getting her disease under control," said Hutton, who has become Baitenmann's champion and among her most ardent supporters.

In fact, Hutton attended the Games as a guest of the Baintenmann family.

"It was fun to see her shine," he said.

Baitenmann's family has shown support for Hutton as well. When her mother, Edna, turned 90 in early 2012, family and friends donated gifts to Baylor College of Medicine and to Hutton's program. They also work with the MS Society and raised funds for a bike ride from Toronto to London, Ontario, that is much like the MS 150 from Houston to Austin.

Family support

It is Baitenmann's 25-year-old daughter, Reni, who is the leader of her mother's fan club. Reni led the complicated charge to find new meaning for life after her mother was diagnosed with MS in a grueling process that started in Mexico City with misdiagnoses, terrible reactions to various medications and unsympathetic health care workers.

"It was such a hard time finding what was wrong. I was so worried, and my mother was so depressed," Reni reflected on the time before they found Hutton and started making progress with treatments.

"My mother is herself when she is on a horse," Reni said. "I love to see my mother like this," she said, indicating her mother's current health.

"This is the mother I know. I feel like I have my mother back," Reni said.