Thursday January 18th 2018

MS patients cling to hope

It’s a very slim chance — about 1.4 in one million, to be exact — but having your wisdom teeth pulled under general anesthetic can kill you.

That’s what a grim report out of Ontario proved, following a study of dental surgery deaths in that province from 1973 to 1995.

Patients went in, innocently expecting a cavity filled or a tooth pulled, and out they went, in a bodybag.

To say dental surgery is a life-threatening procedure wouldn’t be wrong then — but it would certainly be wrong to say that’s all dental surgery is.

To focus on the worst-case scenario is a disservice to dentistry, and the great good oral medicine does for the many who don’t die in the dental chair.

It’s the same story for any medical procedure: Look long enough, at enough patients, and you’ll find cases where something went wrong, leading to complications and sometimes death.

Infection, allergies and human error are all part of the risk, whether you’re having a heart transplant or an ingrown toenail fixed.

The vast majority will leave the doctor feeling better. A few patients, not so much.

Those seeking treatment for CCSVI are not stupid.

They know there are risks with the only treatment so far to offer real hope for multiple sclerosis patients.

They’re not naive or easily duped, as some in Alberta’s medical profession seem to believe.

Liberation therapy, by which chronic cerebro-spinal venous insufficiency is relieved through the opening of blood vessels to the brain, is unproven, and even for the faithful, it’s no miracle cure.

CCSVI Alberta says the therapy provides full relief for three in ten who do it, improvement for another three or four patients, and for the rest, little at all.

But when MS has sentenced you to a life filled with pain, fatigue and deteriorating physical function, the risk of complication or lousy results doesn’t matter quiet so much.

A chance to escape wheelchairs, diapers and a disease which makes every day a mental and physical agony is what matters — and what Liberation therapy really provides is hope.

Somehow, a few alarmist doctors is Calgary seem determined to crush that hope, by focusing on the worst-case scenario.

A team of neurologists from the University of Calgary have found five patients who travelled abroad for the therapy, then suffered complications.

Problems included stent migration, cranial nerve injury and thrombosis of the brain and jugular — and in at least one case, the MS symptoms were worse post-therapy.

As pure science, it’s useful to know Canadians seeking medical help in questionable locales like Poland, Mexico and India are at risk of complication and even death.

But really, go figure. Canada refuses to allow its citizens the right to determine their own medical destiny at home, and so people are forced to seek expensive help in sketchy places.

It speaks to the desperation of MS patients and raises the question of how much safer the procedure might be if offered in Canada, under Canadian medical standards.

But we don’t know that. More significant, when you have neurologists pointing out how bad it can be, is how little the medical profession in Alberta knows of the positive side of Liberation therapy.

At the moment, the answer is bugger all. We don’t even have an official count of how many Albertans have paid up to $20,000 to fly abroad for the treatment, since it was discovered in 2009.

Despite countless reports of amazing post-therapy improvement — wheelchair bound people walking again, and so forth — Canada still has no clue whether CCSVI is real, or the greatest placebo in human history.

Alberta has been inhumanely slow investigating the treatment and the claims around it, finally announcing last month $1 million will be spent documenting patients who receive Liberation therapy abroad.

It’s a study flawed before it begins, because you can’t be sure foreign doctors are doing a decent job, the way you might with at-home clinical trials.

But it’s a start, and at some point, we’ll hopefully have doctors who can offer an objective opinion on both the good and bad aspects of Liberation therapy.

Anything will be an improvement over doctors sounding off, based on a fragment of evidence.

Whether it’s wisdom teeth or CCSVI, medicine is a risky business — and our doctors should know better than raising an alarm prematurely.

Prove that it does no good, before you complain that it might do harm.

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