Hellenic News of America sat down with Rayna Aivazoglou, an inspiring Greek-American from the Greater Philadelphia area, who is also a recent graduate of NYU, to get filled in on her most recent documentary, “A Dream to Walk. A Fight to Live.”: Christina Aivazoglou. Rayna shared with us an inspiring story about her journey in the creation of this amazing and heartfelt documentary on her dear aunt, Christina Aivazoglou, who has been battling with Primary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS) since 2006. Rayna has taken it a step further and has partnered with gofundme.com to raise funds for Multiple Sclerosis research. Rayna, we are very proud of you and wish you much success with this amazing documentary and your MS awareness campaign.
As a personal fitness trainer and a health therapist coach, Christina Aivazoglou ate, breathed and slept nutrition—that is, until August 16, 2006, when she was diagnosed with Primary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. Within just eight years, she has watched her body rapidly deteriorate. The documentary, “A Dream to Walk. A Fight to Live” chronicles the life of Christina Aivazoglou as she battles MS— a crippling disease that has changed both her and her family’s life forever. Despite ten failed treatments, depression and isolation from the world, she continues to fight because one day she wants to walk again. Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system and can affect a person’s ability to walk, stand and function efficiently, according to her doctor, Dr. Armsteid Williams, a specialist for Multiple Sclerosis. Christina and her doctor have fought endlessly to inhibit her MS from spreading any further but as she remarked, since day one, “it’s been a roller coaster going down faster and faster.” Within 3 years, she has lost entire mobility in her left side of her body, even the left part of her tongue– causing a slur in her speech. Despite the physical and mental exhaustion, Christina is persistent to not only fight for her body back as she begins her seventh treatment in October: she wants to walk, let alone run again. She faces a chronic disease, but also a series of tribulations: her career ended, her marriage has deteriorated from financial pressures (her husband and child have moved back in with her parents) and she has tried over 16 failed treatments to battle MS. Truth is, there is no cure for her disease, doctors say.
As a double major in Finance and Broadcast Journalism, minor in French at New York University, I was elected amongst eight other students for the Advanced TV Reporting Honors Class with Professor Jason Samuels, a current HBO ESPN Producer. Though I qualified for the class from my 3.9 GPA, I had not known a single thing about filming or editing film. My expertise premised on short TV news stand-ups on featured news. Thus, when my professor gave us the prompt of our Senior thesis: a 20 minute documentary on any topic of choice, it was initially incredibly enticing.
I was finishing my undergraduate studies, was working for Peter Pappas for 6 hours every day and was preparing for my LSAT as my goal is to further my studies and continue onto Law School. Choosing the topic was the easiest part of the assignment: I had witnessed my aunt— my father’s brother’s wife— within 8 years slowly dissipate as a result of this autoimmune disease. I was always very curious as to what Multiple Sclerosis truly was and sought that in doing a documentary on her, it would not only answer these lingering thoughts but also allow me to spend more time with my aunt who I would see on rare holiday occasions. Throughout the year, that is exactly what happened. Christina was a joy to work with, and her passion and perseverance to fight her condition was breathtaking.
The more I filmed, the more passionate I became in helping spread the awareness. I discovered that her condition is the rare 10 percent of all different types of Multiple Sclerosis and even more, the only type that has no definitive cure. Doctors will give those who are diagnosed with Primary Progressive Disease a list of possible treatments which vary from bone marrow transplant, stem cell treatments to alternative and holistic remedies such as medical marijuana, certain herbs to consume, injections. Though I could only encapsulate 18 minutes of my aunt, the footage I have exceeds over 140 hours. I then had to self-teach myself how to use Adobe Premiere to cut and edit the footage, and fuse in clips of myself dancing in the beginning and end for artistic purposes— that was perhaps the most challenging. The software is incredibly advanced; I would compare it to learning an entire new language. However, after taking a couple of classes on computer coding for iPhone apps, I was familiar with computer language and learned real quick.
To conclude, after screening my thesis and sending it to my aunt, I had promised her that my assignment was not over: it was just beginning. My plan is to continue in filming her, continue collecting her own personal videos, in essence, to keep her life under a capsule to keep her progression under surveillance. My goal now is to help spread awareness. What began as just a thesis for NYU has turned into a passion of mine. It has pierced my heart and I will fight with her so that Research and Development changes and finds true methods that can help my aunt amongst others suffering with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis live full and happy lives.