Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MDs ordered not to shun MS patients

Not giving after-treatment care

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Health Minister Theresa Oswald says the Manitoba medical community will not shun patients who have received a controversial medical treatment abroad for multiple sclerosis.

"We have been clear with our professionals in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, with the MS clinic, that we want them to have an open approach with patients regardless of what their needs are," Oswald said Thursday.

She was responding to complaints by MS sufferers who have travelled abroad for the so-called "liberation procedure," in which surgery is done to unblock veins in the neck. Many say the procedure has transformed their lives, giving them renewed energy and mobility.

However, they also say doctors in Manitoba are reluctant to give them the follow-up care they need, including providing them with prescriptions.

On Thursday, about half a dozen MS patients who have received the treatment, along with family members, came to the legislature to witness debate of an opposition motion encouraging the Manitoba government to move forward with clinical trials for the procedure, which is not yet available in Canada. The motion died when it failed to come up for a vote before the allotted time had expired, although the government later offered to put forward an amended version in the future.

Outside the chamber, those who had received the procedure -- which costs about $18,000, including travel costs, in places like Costa Rica and Mexico -- expressed frustration Manitoba is not pushing for clinical trials to begin immediately so the procedure can be done here soon.

Winnipegger Sharlene Garlinski, who underwent treatment in Costa Rica Aug. 3, said she felt "very wobbly" and lacked energy before the procedure. On Thursday at the legislative building, she walked in heels for the first time in five years.

"I had an immediate overwhelming energy come over me," she said, describing how she felt after receiving the treatment.

Several Manitobans who have gone abroad for the procedure say they feel like pariahs when they seek follow-up care back home. A neurologist complained to one patient about how much time he was spending attending to such cases, while another specialist punted a patient seeking help back to a family doctor.

Cara Bumstead said her dad had difficulty obtaining a follow-up prescription for a blood thinner when he returned to Canada after having the procedure done this fall. After his family doctor wouldn't write one, he wound up going to a walk-in clinic on Main Street. "We should have the after-care here regardless of where they've (gone for treatment)," Bumstead said.

Oswald conceded Thursday she has spoken to a number of MS patients who have expressed frustration about follow-up care once they've returned to Manitoba.

She said when it comes to "untried, untested, not medically endorsed kinds of procedures," there are professionals reluctant to engage in a follow-up treatment that hasn't been invented yet.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 3, 2010 A18

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