Opinion Editorial

Approving MS 'fix' is the right thing to do


Canadians with MS are being denied treatment here at home. There are 47 countries that recognize Chronic Cerebro-Spinal Venous Insufficiency (CCSVI) as a true entity. Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world and Jeanette Elliot of the Barrie MS branch can tell you the total annual cost of health care and lost productivity associated with MS in Canada is estimated to be about $950 million.

Barrie cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Sandy MacDonald recently presented his findings to the Subcommittee on Neurological Disease of the Standing Committee on Health in Ottawa. Last year, my Liberal colleague MP Kristy Duncan and I encouraged Parliament to develop a national strategy on the brain and form this committee. Dr. MacDonald told us his office continues to receive 1,000 requests a week for this procedure and he is at a loss to understand why the Ontario government rejects this inexpensive and simple surgical treatment. They are allowing so many to suffer needlessly and MS patients diagnosed with CCSVI are travelling to other countries at great financial cost.

I know Dr. MacDonald to be a man of complete integrity. I believe in his work and know he would never perform an unsafe procedure. He is driven to help his patients. Their personal stories speak volumes. Let me share just a few of their stories with you:

* Lianne Webb, a 48 year old woman from Hillsdale, started suffering severe migraine headaches in her mid-20s, began to lose control of her right arm and leg, and struggled daily with chronic bouts of fatigue. Webb was diagnosed with MS in 1992.

After 18 long years of living with this disease that had so profoundly affected her and her family, she went to see Dr. Mac- Donald. Through imaging, he saw the blockages in her jugulars and diagnosed CCSVI. He treated her with balloon angioplasty on Feb. 11 of this year. She has described the procedure as simple, painless and only lasting an hour, including her recovery time. Webb said she no longer has symptoms, her fatigue is gone and she stopped taking the medication. She is working full-time, she is golfing again and walks the course, she goes horseback riding at least twice a week and she now finds it hard to even sit down and relax. She can't wait to try so many new things. Webb has her life back.

* Steven Garvie, a 53-year-old Barrie man, was diagnosed with Secondary Progressive MS about 10 years ago. He was unable to walk without the use of an aid, a rollanator or an electric wheelchair.

He was living in supportive housing for the physically disabled and was attended to by caregivers every day. They helped him shower, cook his supper, feed him, and clean up after. The agony of Garvie's daily life was almost too much to bear. He was constantly haunted by the thoughts of what his disease was putting his three daughters through. He took anti-depressants and admitted to our committee he tried to commit suicide.

He had almost given up. That is until he went to see Dr. Mac- Donald.

Garvie has CCSVI and on Jan. 29 of this year, he was treated with balloon angioplasty. He says he went into the procedure with the hope of just stopping the progression. He was not prepared for the amazing results. Garvie was so proud to tell us he no longer needs the caregivers. He left his housing unit three months ago. He now showers on his own, cooks his own meals, feeds himself and cleans up after. He has his life back.

The Ontario Ministry of Health will not authorize physicians like Dr. MacDonald from treating CCSVI in MS patients. The Ontario Health Technology Advisory Committee (OHTAC) ruled in May that the treatment is too experimental and larger population studies are required. While I understand the need to collect more scientific data, Dr. MacDonald and I know the cost of doing science must not be at the cost of wasted lives.

Clearly, the Ontario Health Ministry does not understand the urgency of the situation.

Barb Farrell in our community is an appalling example of someone scheduled for treatment by Dr. MacDonald only to have it cancelled just days before. Farrell cannot wait for the province to drag its feet for years to have broad population studies.

She is too weak to travel to another country.

Farrell desperately wants and needs this procedure. She is almost out of time.

Sixteen hundred cases have been treated successfully internationally and Dr. MacDonald has already treated six patients in Barrie. Yesterday, our committee heard from Italy's Dr. Paolo Zamboni, Poland's Dr. Marian Simka and Toronto's Dr. Robert Maggisano. All three experts were unequivocal in their conviction that this treatment offers incredible and exciting new medical opportunities for MS patients.

The MS Society released $2.4 million last week for studies to support this case. The Canadian Institute of Health Research (CHIR) has begged for research studies providing further clarity. The federal government added $16 million to the CIHR budget for clinical research.

The federal health minister has convened a national conference of the top academics, provincial officials, doctors and researchers to discuss CCSVI in MS patients.

This is not a partisan issue; it is about doing the right thing.

I commend Barrie MPP Aileen Carroll for writing the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

We need more members of the provincial Liberal government to follow Aileen's example and demand this treatment be allowed by their government.

Patrick Brown is the MP for Barrie

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