Saturday March 17th 2018

Gael Bullard solidly behind protest to help MS sufferers

A retired Brockville registered nurse is throwing her support behind a campaign by local multiple sclerosis patients demanding a vascular treatment they see as a ray of hope in the fight against a relentless disease.

Gael Bullard told a Recorder and Times reporter she feels strongly about the matter and intends to join local patients and their families leaving on a bus Monday for a protest on Parliament Hill.

“I’m 69 and this will be my first protest,” said Bullard, who argues in favour of the treatment out of compassion for patients and their families in a letter to the editor in today’s newspaper.

Bullard said she has always had an interest in medical issues and was fascinated to learn from a CTV report last year that the vascular treatment for CCSVI (chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency) provided by an Italian doctor relieved the symptoms of some MS patients.

The angioplasty treatment is routinely used to clear up clogged jugular veins. Ironically, the treatment is available for Canadians with different medical problems but is specifically off-limits for MS patients, a point which frustrates advocates such as Bullard.

Meanwhile, she contacted local residents waging an Internet campaign and offered her services to promote a petition and write letters of support.

“This may not be a cure, but it’s not really about MS. It’s about basic care.”

“I think it’s very unfair to withhold this for MS patients. I don’t think it’s the whole answer, but it may help in simplifying and clarifying and directing MS research into some areas that have not been considered.

“It’s certainly something that deserves far more attention and it could have widespread applications.”

A longtime supporter of the MS Society, Bullard said she is sympathetic because the disease attacks young adults and traditional drug treatment provides limited success that is often complicated by side effects.

“The thing that bothers me is these people have very little hope or help and they face a lot of expenses.”

Bullard dismissed arguments against the procedure from the provincial and federal levels of government and in particular blasted statements from Alberta that blocked blood vessels are not a serious problem and that angioplasty is a dangerous procedure.

“What universe are they living in?” she said, noting blood clots in the heart and brain are life-threatening.

Similarly, angioplasty is a relatively safe and common procedure Bullard believes is less harmful than some of the drugs currently being used to combat the disease.

She said MS is a disease more common in Canada and other northern states than elsewhere in the world and she finds the reluctance to consider the new treatment by government leaders and health officials surprising.

“We should really be open to anything that will give us more knowledge,” said Bullard.

Federal reluctance has been especially frustrating to Brockville MS patients, including Amy Preston, who has led a public campaign to raise awareness for their cause.

On the other hand, provincial health ministers have shown some interest and Saskatchewan announced plans to move ahead with clinical trials last month.

More recently, Newfoundland announced Monday it will begin tracking the condition of MS patients who seek the treatment outside Canada to determine if it provides benefits to patients.

“It’s a start, but we still have to go out of the country for treatment,” said Preston.

Still, she is encouraged that patient pressure has at least raised the heat on government officials.

“I’m very cautiously optimistic that the provincial health ministers are showing a lot of interest in CCSVI,” said Preston.

Still, she believes a federal study of the procedure gives too much influence to doctors with no experience in the vascular procedure and who are too close to drug companies with a vested interest in continuing the existing treatment protocols.

Preston is unable to attend Monday’s rally because she will be in Barrie with her husband to have an examination that will determine if her jugular vein is blocked.

Next month, she is scheduled to have vascular surgery in northern New York to remove the blockage she expects will be found in Barrie.

If there is no blockage, Preston still plans to attend her New York appointment for a more in-depth examination of the suspect vein.

But Preston will be represented on Parliament Hill by her parents and in-l aw s as well as son Mack, 16, and daughter Allison, 14, who will speak to the audience about the effects on the family of her mother’s battle with MS.

“My heart will be in Ottawa,” said Preston.

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