Thursday January 18th 2018

MS treatment allows happy dance

A YouTube video by Lisa Gallagher shows the Sussex woman doing a happy dance. Something she couldn’t do just a short while ago.

“And look,” she says. “I can squat. I can get myself up. I can sit.”

The video was filmed in Maine a day after Gallagher had liberation therapy. The angioplasty procedure opens up the vessels that drain blood from the brain. It is becoming the treatment of choice for an ever-increasing number of people afflicted with multiple sclerosis. It was developed by an Italian, Paulo Zamboni, who is both a vascular surgeon and a professor.

Zamboni announced his theory and the results of his own trials in November 2009. News of his research swept around the world and since then thousands of people with MS have had the procedure. The somewhat controversial procedure is not covered in Canada by medical insurance because it is considered experimental. In fact, the MS treatment is not yet available north of the 49th parallel, although the Canadian government announced June 29 it intends to cover the cost of future clinical trials in this country, a move commended by the Canadian Medical Association.

“While Canada has one of the highest rates of MS sufferers in the world, we also have leading research and medical minds that can be mobilized to gather more evidence and conduct the necessary trials and studies to ensure efficacious, evidence-based treatment is available for all Canadians battling MS,” CMA president Dr. Jeff Turnbull said in a statement.

The statement reinforced the association’s position outlined in September 2010 that it “is committed to the principle that, before any new treatment is adopted and applied by the medical profession, it must first be rigorously tested and recognized as evidence-based.”

Gallagher was diagnosed with MS 18 years ago and is one of seven Kings County people who plan to have – or have already had – liberation therapy in 2011.

When she was in her 20s, Gallagher’s MS was considered to be relapsing-remitting meaning there were times when there were periods of remission. More than 10 years ago she was told her multiple sclerosis had become secondary progressive. That meant the future would include symptoms that would progressively worsen. She might lose the ability to walk, to talk, to control her bladder and bowel.

Prior to the June 21 liberation therapy, Gallagher was not able to walk unaided.

“I used either a cane or a walker to get from place to place,” she said. “Occasionally I’d try to get from point A to point B and I’d fall flat on my face.”

Gallagher took a serious tumble in February and wound up with fractures of her fibia and tibia. She favours one leg as a result of that injury, but she is now walking (and dancing and squatting and sitting) without a cane or the help of the friends and family members she has relied on for years.

Gallagher said she regained her sense of balance immediately after undergoing the one-hour angioplasty in Providence, R.I. She said she told her Sussex physician, Dr. David Symington, she planned to have the procedure and although he was not in a position to endorse it, neither did he counsel her against it.

“I was originally planning to have it done in Albany, N.Y,” said Gallagher. “But the demand was so high they actually opened a second clinic in Rhode Island. After I had the procedure I was put in a room with two other people. One was from Moncton; the other from Saint John. They’re overloaded with Canadians.”

Gallagher said she was told both her jugular veins had been unblocked.

“The left jugular was 70 per cent narrowed; the right one less.”

She said she regained her sense of balance after the treatment and was able to walk unaided right away. Her fatigue, another common symptom of the disease, continues to lessen.

“And another biggie was the vertigo disappeared,” she said. “I used to always feel like I was moving and I don’t have that sensation anymore. And my bowel and bladder control are a lot better.”

The procedure and travel expenses cost Gallagher around $10,000. She said the New Brunswick government contributed $2,500 and the balance was raised during a benefit friends held for her March 5.

Gallagher said she understands the fix may not be permanent.

“We don’t know how long it will last,” she said. “I’m in touch with a woman in Fredericton who had it done a year ago. She had a follow-up in Bangor and her veins are still open. The time, for some other people, seems to be more limited.”

For now, Gallagher is living one day at a time, and is thrilled with her newfound health.

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