MS surgery helpful, if not miraculous

After liberation therapy in U.S., patient seeks treatment closer to home

Orthotist Emily Northcote shows off a brace at the spasticity clinic in Queen Alexandra Hospital. The clinic aims to increase autonomy in patients with multiple sclerosis and other diseases through the use of Botox

Orthotist Emily Northcote shows off a brace at the spasticity clinic in Queen Alexandra Hospital. The clinic aims to increase autonomy in patients with multiple sclerosis and other diseases through the use of Botox

The results haven’t proven life changing, but at the very least the constant wondering has been resolved.

On May 16, Kate Day travelled to the Vascular Access Centre in Seattle for liberation therapy to open up her veins narrowed by multiple sclerosis.

The procedure is not approved in Canada, and the Esquimalt Neighbourhood House raised almost all of the $7,000 cost for the procedure and travel.

“I thought the whole thing was very exciting,” said Day.

The doctor enters the vein through the groin area, during which time the patient is conscious.

“Yeah – you’re awake but you have lots of drugs in you,” Day said. The only thing she remembers from the surgery is the doctor saying ‘Oh wow, look at that.’”

“What he was talking about was the vein that drains the spinal fluids, and that was 90-per- cent narrowed,” she said.

For the first two months post operation, she saw noticeable results.

“I still used my cane but I was a lot faster and I could lift my left leg more than I ever could for quite some time,” she said. Since mid-July, however, the benefits have waned. She still feels minor improvements in her mobility and suffers less of what MS patients call “brain fog.”

Despite not experiencing “earth shattering” results, Day has no regrets.

“I’m extremely happy that I had the operation,” she said. “You are able to take your own health in your own hands and try something. Otherwise, you sit back and think, ‘I wonder if it could have helped me.’”

Having explored this avenue, Day is now trying something different right here at home.

She is one of 22 patients so far accepted into a $200,000 study to increase her mobility.

Caroline Quartly is medical director of the Spasticity Clinic, lodged at the Queen Alexandra Hospital.

“It’s my baby,” she says with the passion of someone out to change the system.

Together with the University of Victoria’s School of Exercise Science, Physical Health and Education, the medical director is still on the hunt for stroke, MS, cerebral palsy and other patients with limb spasticity willing to try out a new approach to standard treatments.

These patients traditionally get treated with Botox to relax the muscle, physiotherapy to stretch the muscle, and a brace to improve the efficiency of the movement. The problem, Quartly said, is these services are typically accessed sequentially instead of in a co-ordinated fashion.

Her clinic brings all these experts together and monitors the results closely.

The goal, she said, is to increase fitness and autonomy for the patient. “We are not curing the disease.”

Patients’ gaits are filmed in order to map progress using the same quality of video camera used to film Olympic sports.

“I really do feel that we have a responsibility, when health-care dollars are so limited, to make sure that what we’re doing is in actual fact effective,” Quartly said.

“We don’t want braces that are thrown in the garbage. We don’t want money wasted on Botox that isn’t toward a specific goal, and we don’t want to raise people’s false hopes.”

Day is signed up to get her first Botox treatment later this month.

She said she’s impressed with the program so far. But she’s not stopping there. She’s open to any recourse available, whether it be an exercise regimen or even another surgery.

“I just keep hacking away at it.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

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