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MS patient flown south for long-awaited treatment

Marg. Bruineman

The notes were short and sparse, too sparse for the growing Facebook crowd waiting for word.

Armed with cameras, an ipad, iphone and newly-acquired passports, Patrick Farrell was the last to board the Pilatus PC 12 air ambulance taking his wife to a U.S. clinic for treatment Wednesday morning.

"I'm anxious," said the Barrie father on the tarmac at Lake Simcoe Regional Airport between Barrie and Orillia. "It's been a tough slug. But what's going to happen is going to happen."

Barb Farrell, a 46-year-old mother of a 10-year-old boy, has multiple sclerosis. She's been in Barrie's Royal Victoria Hospital for about six weeks, most of her functions diminishing.

She tilts her head slightly, but it's her eyes, beautifully made up, that seeks out the photographer documenting her precedent-setting trip.

The procedure she is seeking in the U.S. is vascular angioplasty. Angioplasty is typically used on heart patients to clear blockages. It is considered an unobtrusive and relatively inexpensive treatment. But it eludes Canadian patients with MS.

Barrie vascular surgeon Dr. Sandy McDonald treated six patients in Barrie earlier this year. Farrell was booked to have it done through a radiologist, but two days before it was to happen, it was cancelled. No more angioplasty procedures for patients with MS went ahead.

Ontario considers it experimental and no Canadian province is permitting it.

The Farrells' situation is capturing hearts across the Internet and at home in Barrie. Now the Farrells have a private benefactor who is picking up the entire tab for the treatment. There's the cost of the transport ambulance from the hospital to the airport, the specially-equipped jet manned with two

paramedics and pilots. Then there's the procedure itself and the trip back.

"We've got some really good people here," said Farrell. "My hope is something good will happen on the table."

But there's a reality as well. Barb's condition is advanced. She has a feeding tube because she can't swallow. She is bed-bound. The brief times she tries to utter a word, she is barely audible. A do-not-resuscitate order, issued before the trip was even conceived, still stands. A month ago there was a family discussion about a transfer to Barrie's new hospice centre.

Every time Patrick posts an update on his Facebook page, at least a dozen people respond with hope.

The first was in the morning: " Paramedics are here starting transfer now.

This is going to happen!"

That was followed a short time later with: "On the road!"

Then: "In the air! Wish us luck!"

Three hours later: "We are here and registered!"

And then the wait. Facebook, a worldwide Internet community of others with MS and a concerned audience at home in Barrie are waiting for the next post. And they're hoping.

Finally, nearly seven hours after the Farrells left the airport came the message everyone was waiting for: " Barbie is out of the O.R. and OK. Her voice is quite clear and she is good.

Very bad stenosis on the left jugular, used 2 stents, angioplasty on the right too."

Within three minutes there were messages from five well wishers. They continue to watch, first to ensure the trip home is a safe one. And then for some sign of improvement.

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