Gordon appointed to MS service committee

Albertans affected by multiple sclerosis have gained a powerful ally in their fight to have a controversial surgery made available in Canada.

Albertans affected by multiple sclerosis have gained a powerful ally in their fight to have a controversial surgery made available in Canada.

Lacombe Mayor Judy Gordon, who retires on Monday, has been appointed to lead a provincial government committee charged with reviewing all aspects of service for MS patients in Alberta. That includes analyzing the implications of approving and funding a procedure known as liberation or chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) surgery.

Because the surgery has not been approved for MS patients in Canada, large numbers of people are paying tens of thousands of dollars to have it done in foreign countries, Gordon said on Friday.

CCSVI surgery is a cheap, safe and effective means of relieving MS symptoms, said Sylvan Lake bank teller Dawn Carr, 39, who went through the procedure in Mexico about a month ago. The trip cost $15,000, including $9,750 for the procedure. The physician used a local anaesthetic.

Carr, who had experienced loss of vision and paralysis on one side of her body, said she was still on the table when the feeling started to return to her hands. Her right leg no longer drags when she walks and she has more energy than ever before.

CCSVI surgery was not even on the table three years ago, when the MS Society’s Alberta and Northwest Territories Division started lobbying the provincial government for a more focused approach on serving MS patients, said Gordon, diagnosed with MS while she was still MLA for Lacombe-Stettler.

A member of the MS Society’s board and chair of its Client Services Group, Gordon led the efforts to have Alberta Health and Wellness create the MS Connector Services Committee.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky chose Gordon to champion the cause, appointing her and assistant deputy minister Susan Woods to co-chair the committee, which has been given 18 months to study the issues and develop a provincial strategy.

While she is not contemplating the CCSVI procedure for herself at this point, Gordon said she hopes to include an independent analysis of its costs and the potential benefits of making it available in Canada rather than have Albertans spending thousands of dollars to have it done in other countries.

The analysis would track results from people who have had the procedure, including details of their symptoms before and after the surgery, she said.

The need is particularly pressing in Central Alberta, which has an unusually high rate of MS, said Gordon. She could not elaborate, however, since the most recent statistics are from 2004.

In its official position on CCSVI, the MS Society says it recognizes “mounting anecdotal evidence” from people receiving the treatment outside of Canada to suggest that their symptoms have improved.

The MS Society’s position is to advocate for making the treatment available in Alberta if it is proven to be safe and effective. The Alberta and Northwest Territories Division is pushing for clinical trials in Alberta and says the national organization’s decision to set aside $1 million toward the trial is a positive step forward.