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MS decision disgusts patient's husband

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Ontario won't fund clinical trials of a new operation offering hope to those with multiple sclerosis, Premier Dalton McGuinty said this week.

Corrective angioplasty for chronic cerebro-spinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) has been identified as a treatment for some sufferers of MS, a neurological disorder that eventually shuts down the human body.

The angioplasty opens a vein that prevents proper blood flow from the brain, but the procedure isn't universally accepted in the medical community.

Barrie's Patrick Farrell, whose wife Barb had this procedure June 23 in New York State, said he's disgusted by the province's decision.

"Ontario has become a have-not province. We have no leadership or compassion from our leaders," he said. "My wife was going to die. She is thriving now."

The Canadian Press (CP) is reporting that McGuinty wants to see more than anecdotal evidence before clinical trials are funded.

"It's just early days yet, and my understanding is the MS Society of Canada has not endorsed this treatment yet," he told CP.

"My wife is living proof (that the procedure is effective)," Farrell said.

He said Barb can now move her neck, hands, legs and swallow.

"People just don't go from the death bed to being very vibrant," Farrell said. "She's back to being my wife."

Saskatchewan announced Tuesday its government was ready to help pay for clinical trials of the so-called liberation treatment, despite a lack of scientific evidence proving it works.

"I'm ecstatic that Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is providing leadership in this venue," said Dr. Sandy McDonald, a Barrie vascular surgeon. "I'm saddened to see the Ontario government hasn't taken the position to fund clinical trials that are needed to resolve whether or not angioplasty has a role to play in the treatment of patients with MS."

Last month, Barrie MPP Aileen Carroll said Ontario MS patients should have access to this new treatment, and asked the provincial health ministry to allow it.

She wasn't asking OHIP to cover the treatment's cost, only that MS patients have access to it in Ontario -- just as they do cosmetic surgery by doctors in accredited medical facilities.

Carroll has had conversations with health ministry officials since then and received an answer.

"The decision to allow these procedures -- uninsured, by OHIP -- does not rest with the provincial ministry of health. It rests with individual hospitals throughout the province," she said.

Carroll said Ontario hospitals must still make the decision to provide this procedure as part of the normal routine of decisions health-care facilities make on a daily basis.

But she says the procedure should be allowed in Ontario.

Angioplasty is a proven, non-intrusive, relatively inexpensive procedure," Carroll said. "People with MS should have access to this procedure."

As for funding the clinical trial, Carroll said governments need to be involved.

"I think there is a role there for governments," she said. "There's a possible role there for the federal government. It provides millions (of dollars) to applied research."

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said the province has made it very clear it intends to rely on scientific evidence to determine what procedures it will pay for.

Simcoe North Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop said he's excited about Saskatchewan's decision on financing clinical trials of liberation therapy.

"I am glad that someone has taken the lead to help people with MS," he said. "Many people in my riding have contacted me asking me to support liberation therapy in Ontario. I urge Premier McGuinty to follow Saskatchewan's lead.

"With clinical trials more evidence can be gathered to calculate the results and Ontarians will not have to travel abroad to get treatment."

The treatment is based on a theory by Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni thatBarb Farrell blocked veins in the neck or spinal cord are to blame for MS. It involves using an angioplasty-type treatment to clear the veins carrying blood from the brain.

Zamboni says 73% of patients who have undergone the procedure have noticed significant decreases in MS symptoms.

"It's very interesting," McGuinty said. "I think it holds some promise and our responsibility now is to work together and make sure that it, in fact, is something that we should be supporting."

Canada's MS Society is funding studies into the liberation therapy, and has asked the federal government to contribute $10 million for research into chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency.

Dr. McDonald, who runs Barrie Vascular Imaging, says Ontario MS patients are travelling to the United States and Europe to receive this procedure.

Clinics in Poland, Bulgaria and India are charging up to $30,000 to open blockages for MS patients, who have flocked from Canada and other countries in the last few months.

McDonald has said the cost is about $1,500 per treatment in Ontario.

About 60,000 Canadians suffer from MS.

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