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MS patient boosted by 'second chance'


Barb Farrell hesitates about being videotaped. With the exception of a touch of mascara, she's without make-up and that's just not to her liking.

But she agrees and she begins to answer the question: What's changed?

"Everything," she says immediately, sitting in a wheelchair for the first time in two months.

"I was completely paralyzed and I thought that my life was over, but now I have a new start. I have a second chance and that's pretty amazing."

The video rolls for more than four minutes as the 46-year-old Barrie mother of a 10-year-old boy talks about her new lease on life. There's still a significant drawl to her speech, but it appears effortless, compared to two weeks earlier, when she whispered a few words at a time.

Barb has multiple sclerosis and wanted a balloon angioplasty procedure that is believed to help many with her condition. She had a collapsed vein, something which appears to be common in those with MS.

But the vascular treatment of MS, proposed by Italian Dr. Paolo Zamboni, is considered an unproved theory. And although it is used for other ailments, including heart conditions, it's not being made available to patients with MS.

Barrie vascular surgeon, Dr. Sandy McDonald, thinks that Zamboni is on to something. He's been testing the veins of hundreds of MS patients at his clinic. And six have undergone the angioplasty procedure at Barrie's Royal Victoria Hospital.

Barb was to be next, but access to the procedure here was halted just two days before she was to receive it.

It's not available anywhere in Canada and only "through the back door" of the odd facility in the United States, along with a few other countries.

Barb's condition deteriorated and she had been in a Barrie hospital bed, almost motionless, for a month. She and her husband, Patrick, broached the possibility of accessing hospice care, but ultimately decided they weren't ready.

Last month, they formally requested to have the procedure done on compassionate grounds at RVH and were denied.

Three days later, Patrick received a call. A benefactor had come forward to pay, not just for the treatment, but also for the special transport required to get her to the U.S. clinic to have it done.

Five days later, Barb was on an aircraft equipped with two pilots and two paramedics on her way to the U.S. There, major blockages were discovered in both her jugular veins. She was also discovered to have May-Thurner syndrome, which was also corrected. That's a condition that causes clots.

Balloon angioplasty worked in one of the veins, but the other didn't hold up. So, two stents were installed to keep it open.

Barb was back in her Barrie hospital bed that night.

That weekend she entered into a deep depression.

"Nothing had happened to me yet," she explained.

There was some minor movement in her feet and her hand immediately after the procedure, but Barb said she felt the same. She thought that was it for her last chance.

Then, on July 6, she woke up. And things had changed.

She dropped her hourly morphine drip. Now she's given Tylenol 3 when she has pain. She follows movement with her entire head, not just her eyes. Her smile comes easily and it broadens when her nurses joke around while putting her back in her bed.

She's been at Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital's complex care unit for close to 10 days and the goal is to get her onto a lighter unit. Ultimately, she'd like to be back home.

"She's going to be in a chair every day now," says her husband. "She's so much more vibrant now.

"She seems genuinely happy. She seems genuinely motivated."

Because all this is new, it's anyone's guess how far Barb can push the envelope.

But, she says she has more than a fighting chance.

"I feel normal again."

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The Overview:Too early to act upon doctor's findings, says MS Society. Page A8

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