Hopes high for MS treatment

A team of doctors promoting a controversial treatment for multiple sclerosis are visiting Whitehorse later this month. Jillian Campion helped arrange the visit. The 51-year-old Whitehorse resident has the disease.

A team of doctors promoting a controversial treatment for multiple sclerosis are visiting Whitehorse later this month.

Jillian Campion helped arrange the visit. The 51-year-old Whitehorse resident has the disease. And she has high hopes for the so-called liberation treatment, which goes by the clinical title of chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI.

The treatment, pioneered by Italian researcher Paolo Zamboni, upends the longstanding medical belief that MS is an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s defences 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 inserted into the patient’s neck. The technique, called an angioplasty, is routinely used to unplug veins and arteries during heart surgeries in Canada.

The Yukon government plans to piggyback on clinical trials planned by Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Many medical practitioners, meanwhile, remain skeptical of the treatment, which has yet to be replicated on a large scale. But MS patients like Campion feel they can’t afford to wait.

She was diagnosed with the disease in 1984. “I woke up one morning, and I was all numb on one side,” she said.

The numbness spread. Then she developed double vision.

So Campion sought the CCSVI treatment. Currently, it’s not available in Canada. So she paid out of pocket more than $10,000 to have the procedure in California.

She credits the operation for helping restore her balance and feeling in one hand.

“I’d be falling all over the place. I couldn’t bend over to pick up a dime. I’d have to put my laundry basket on a rolling chair to put it in the washing machine. I’d have to sit down to do my jacket up.

“Now I can do all that stuff. And it was instant.”

The doctor who operated on Campion was Dr. Joseph Hewett. On July 27, as part of a tour of Western Canada, he’s visiting Whitehorse to give a free public talk at 7 p.m. at the High Country Inn.

Joining him is Dr. Bill Code. He became diagnosed with MS in 1996 and has become a big believer in the treatment.

He suspects MS patients suffer “a slow stroke” because of constricted blood flow to the brain.

He credits the treatment for lifting a 15-year “mental fog,” improving his sleep and ridding himself of headaches and fatigue.

Code faults skeptical doctors. “They just can’t accept a paradigm shift,” he said.

“They’ve all held everyone else at ransom, saying, bogus. But I don’t think they’ve looked at the literature. They’ve gone in with blinkers on.”

Code suspects the treatment may help patients who suffer from other degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases.

There are two well-published accounts of Canadians dying from the CCSVI procedure.

But Code says it’s “a very safe procedure” that probably presents as small a risk as that for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Jenny Roberts, president of the Yukon’s MS Society, estimates approximately 100 Yukoners have the disease. The CCSVI treatment has become a regular topic at the biweekly meeting of a MS support group at Copper Ridge Place.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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