Being diagnosed with restricted blood flow from the brain usually isn’t cause for any kind of celebration.
But for a Lacombe woman, it’s the one indication needed to be able to hope for a slowing, stoppage and possible reversal of her multiple sclerosis symptoms.
Noreen Leasak’s third visit to Vancouver’s False Creek Surgical Centre proved to be the charm. She had pictures taken Friday of her vascular system, and a doctor from Poland finally found the stenosis — a narrowing or constriction of veins — she was looking for. Narrowing in her left and right jugular arteries restricted blood flow by 60 and 40 per cent, she heard.
This has made her a candidate for a new, controversial medical treatment for MS currently unavailable in Canada. The treatment, pioneered by Italian researcher Dr. Paolo Zamboni, is based on the supposition that MS is related to chronic cerebro-spinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), and that the stenosis of CCSVI are treatable.
On March 23, she’ll begin her journey to India, where she’ll receive the angioplasty that will, it is hoped, open up the arteries to restore normal blood flow to her body.
“The bottom line is I’m hoping that it actually stops the progression, No. 1,” said Leasak, whose relapsing-remitting MS leaves her able to appear to lead a normal life but which causes her severe fatigue, loss of short-term memory and numbness in her right arm and left leg.
“No. 2, I’ve talked to people who have had it done and their symptoms are actually improving a little bit.”
The Canadian medical establishment, and the MS Society of Canada, have adopted a cautious but optimistic approach to CCSVI and the Zamboni treatment.
It was in November that news of the treatment became widespread in Canada, and it’s been more than a month since hundreds of people showed up for an information session on the treatment held by the MS Society and the Central Alberta MS Clinic at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, but still the local MS Society chapter has people contacting them for more information on the subject.
Lorraine Evans-Cross, executive director of Central Alberta chapter, said she’s never seen so much excitement surrounding an MS treatment.
The message they have for people remains the same.
“It’s not, at this point, the cure. It’s not the treatment,” she said in an interview last week. “We want to encourage more information on this to see if it’s something that’s possible. (Zamboni’s) study was very limited, but now the (MS) Society has got a number of proposals to study this.”
Evans-Cross added that she can well understand the urgency behind some people’s quests for any sort of successful treatment.
This is an urgency that Leasak feels keenly.
“(Relapsing remitting) lasts for about 10 years and then it goes into relapsing progressive, which means it puts you in a wheelchair, it can take away your eyesight, it can take away your bodily functions . . . Anything can happen at that point, and I’m four years plus that point,” Leasak said. “Every day something could change drastically for me.”
There are dangers, though, in the Zamboni treatment. By sending a wire up through the groin and past the heart to the blockage area, there is the risk of rapid heart flutters, for one.
Leasak says she’s “nervously excited” about finally coming face to face with the Zamboni treatment.
The only possible obstacle now, she said, is getting her passport updated soon enough to board the plane.