A month ago, Scott Lamphiear couldn’t walk due to Multiple Sclerosis.
Now, the district resident is out of his wheelchair and using a walker to get around.
Lamphiear is one of the many Canadians who—in searching for relief from MS—has travelled to another country to undergo the controversial “liberation therapy.”
“Everything is there, coming back,” the 47-year-old Lamphiear said about the results he’s seen from the treatment he travelled all the way to Mexico to receive.
“[I] have more energy, the fatigue isn’t there,” he noted.
“It ain’t going to happen overnight, so I can’t speak as to what’s down the road,” he admitted.
“I can walk,” he said. “I’m still [having problems talking], but they said it could be up to six months.”
Lamphiear is now a believer in the treatment, which many in the medical community remain skeptical about due to a lack of clinical trials and extensive research.
The procedure was developed by Italian surgeon Paolo Zamboni after he noticed a large number of MS patients had Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency, or CCSVI.
In other words, veins in the neck did not allow for sufficient blood flow from the brain.
Zamboni led a pilot study where treatment involves patients undergoing angioplasty, in which tiny balloons are inflated inside neck veins to improve blood flow.
Findings of this pilot pointed to many MS patients having their symptoms relieved from the procedure, although Zamboni himself has cautioned that more clinical trials and research is needed.
So far, the treatment isn’t available in Canada or the United States, so an increasing number of people with MS—like Lamphiear—have been travelling to countries in Europe, Asia, and South America for treatment and footing the bill themselves.
Lamphiear, who lives just north of Rainy River, was diagnosed with MS in 1995.
“I could walk and everything, [but] you walked like you’re drunk,” he explained, referring to the toll the disease began to take on him, which eventually led to him having to use a wheelchair back in April.
“Everything is affected,” he noted. “Your bowels, circulatory function, your speech, everything.
“The way you move, it’s a neurological disease,” he explained, adding MS also causes chronic fatigue.
Lamphiear said he felt “like crying” when he first heard about liberation therapy being a possible treatment for MS.
“You cannot put a price on your health,” he reasoned.
Lamphiear booked a round trip to Tijuana, Mexico during the second last week of October so he, too, could undergo the treatment.
The price tag for the treatment was a little over $12,000, not counting the airfare.
Flying into San Diego, he was picked up and driven across the border to the hospital in Tijuana, where he underwent an ultrasound and then the angioplasty.
“It was fantastic, best experience ever. It did not hurt one bit,” Lamphiear enthused, extending a thank-you to the hospital where he had the procedure done as well as his doctors, Dr. Moralas and Dr. Luna.
“I had the treatment and in 24 hours I was up walking,” he noted.
“How long it will ask, nobody knows,” he added. “A year-and-a-half is a minimum to have it come back, and hopefully by then Canada can do it.”
Lamphiear still is using a walker because he “doesn’t trust [himself]” as he has fallen down before and broken his back and ribs.
The federal government announced last month that it will not be funding any clinical trials for the controversial treatment, although it has assembled a panel to monitor research that is underway across North America and base any future recommendations on those studies.
In the meantime, some provinces have stepped forward when it comes to research.
Newfoundland and Labrador, for instance, announced $320,000 on observational studies of those who have undergone liberation therapy.
Saskatchewan has earmarked $5 million for clinical trials of the treatment, which are expected to begin next year, while Manitoba has set aside $500,000 to contribute to clinical trials.
The MS Society of Canada, meanwhile, has set aside $1 million for a Canada-wide therapeutic clinical trial should a research study currently being funded by the society show promise.
While Lamphiear believes the cost of the treatment eventually will be covered by the government once the research comes in, he also believes MS patients who want to undergo the procedure should have access to it now within Canada
“It will eventually [come], it could be a year, could be two years, [if] the report is approved. But some people do not have that time,” he stressed.
“It’s a miracle as far as I’m concerned,” said Paul Halvorsen, a longtime close friend and neighbour of Lamphiear, speaking on the first day he was able to see him after his return to Canada.
When they worked together in home construction some five or six years ago, at one point Lamphiear could hardly stand for any length of time and had to get down on his knees to work, Halvorsen recalled.
From there, Lamphiear deteriorated to where he no longer could work—and eventually was in a wheelchair.
“I’m really disgusted with our health care system,” Halvorsen said. “He went to Mexico—and he comes back and he’s walking?
“It really disgusts me that we can’t do something like that at home.
“I’ve been in tears here more than once today,” Halvorsen added, referring to seeing the difference the treatment has made for one of his best friends.
“I’m happy for him but I’m really disgusted with our health care system,” he reiterated, saying he’s convinced about the effectiveness of the treatment from what he’s seen.