Recently, Tim Cant thought his days of pumping iron were behind him.
The 51-year-old Whitehorse resident has multiple sclerosis. He’s watched the debilitating disease take its toll on his body over the past few years. He expected to soon find himself riding in a wheelchair.
Instead, he’s back at the gym. He credits a controversial operation he underwent in Bangalore, India, in June. It’s called the Liberation Treatment, and it offers a radical explanation of what causes MS.
It’s also potentially dangerous, and a long way from meeting the standards of Canadian medical science. That’s why Cant and other MS patients have travelled overseas to receive the operation – it’s not offered in Canada.
There are about 100 Yukoners who, like Cant, are known to have MS. Last week, Health Minister Glenn Hart announced the territory would partner with Saskatchewan, which plans to pursue clinical trials for the Liberation Treatment. It’s unclear when this study would start.
Much of the Canadian medical establishment, however, remains skeptical of the procedure. The results of the method’s pioneer, the Italian researcher Paolo Zamboni, have yet to be independently replicated.
And Zamboni’s study had no control group to distinguish whether patients’ improvements resulted from the surgery, or simply from positive expectations, otherwise known as the placebo effect. MS symptoms tend to come in waves, making progress notoriously difficult to measure.
But there’s no doubt in Cant’s mind about the success of his operation. “I’m no longer going downhill. I’m going uphill. The future looks so much brighter.”
Cant is supposed to have the veins in his neck inspected with a Doppler ultrasound every few months. Because his surgery was done overseas, without the blessing of Health Canada, his aftercare isn’t funded by Canada, either.
He plans to travel to Buffalo to receive the medical scan. Repeated trips will prove costly. He hopes that, when Yukon does piggyback on Saskatchewan’s study, he may receive a helping hand with his followup care.
Yukoners raised nearly $25,000 to help pay for Cant’s trip to India. Now, “I’m really hoping the government supports me,” he said.
Zamboni’s operation upends the longstanding medical belief that MS is an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s defenses begin to attack nerve endings. Instead, Zamboni postulates the disease is a result of poor blood drainage from the brain.
Backed-up blood in the brain results in iron deposits, which produce the disease’s symptoms, according to this theory. The problem is fixed with the wire and balloon that was inserted into Cant’s neck.
The technique, called an angioplasty, is routinely used to unplug veins and arteries during heart surgeries in Canada.
Other practitioners of the Liberation therapy have used metal tubes, called stents, to help keep veins open. This is considered more risky, because of the possibility of a stent coming loose.
An Ontario man recently died last month from complications of having the Liberation Therapy performed on him in Costa Rica.
Contact John Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.