Two New Brunswick men who underwent so-called liberation therapy for multiple sclerosis say it is time the controversial treatment was made available in Canada, despite studies that have questioned its efficacy.
Tim Donovan and John McLaughlin have launched a four-month, cross-country tour to tout the benefits of the treatment, which involves widening constricted neck veins to improve blood flow from the brain.
Mr. Donovan, a councillor in Fredericton Junction, N.B., said he doesn't need any more convincing. The 59-year-old had the procedure at a clinic in Albany, N.Y., last summer.
"I never had the ability to stand here and hug my grandchildren and spend my life with them as much as I do now," Mr. Donovan said Thursday, choking back tears as he addressed a small crowd in front of the provincial legislature in Fredericton.
"This doesn't hurt anybody and helps everybody," he said. "There is some controversy, but people are getting better, and that's all we care about."
But a number of recent studies, including one by the University of Buffalo, have cast doubt on whether narrowed neck veins are the primary cause of MS, and in turn, whether the treatment actually provides benefits.
Mr. McLaughlin had the procedure two weeks ago in Rhode Island.
"I can now see colour, my energy level is improved dramatically, my cognitive skills have improved, and the results are real," Mr. McLaughlin said.
"It's not a cure but it sure makes a dramatic improvement in the quality of life of someone who is waking up every morning with the nightmare of MS."
Mr. Donovan and Mr. McLaughlin are calling on the federal and provincial governments to make the therapy available in Canada.
The MS Society of Canada has said that the treatment should only be done as part of clinical trials.
Dr. Jim Parrot, a cardiac surgeon and Liberal member of the New Brunswick legislature, said he's encouraged by the results he has heard from MS patients, but agrees that the medical community must proceed with caution.
"We definitely have to prove the connection and then it puts the treatment on a very firm basis," he said, adding that he supports clinical trials.
In September, while campaigning in the provincial election, Premier David Alward promised to establish a $500,000 fund to help MS patients afford such procedures.
The commitment was repeated in his government's throne speech in November and the spring budget, but details of the fund have not been finalized.
"I'm not prepared to get into the specifics because there is work ongoing," Mr. Alward said Thursday, adding that patients could rely on the fund's support this year.
"What continues to buoy my sense that this is the right thing to do is when you meet people like Tim or the others who have received the positive benefits."
In the legislature, Health Minister Madeleine Dube said about $250,000 of the fund will be available for use during the first year.
Only New Brunswick has gone so far as to promise funding to help people undergo the treatment abroad. Saskatchewan and Manitoba have committed funding for clinical trials of the treatment and Newfoundland and Labrador is conducting an observational study of patients who have sought it.
A number of provinces are also now developing guidelines for doctors on how patients who travel abroad for liberation therapy should be cared for once they return.