Hollie Pratt-Campbell, Frontenac EMC
Michael Lortie, MS Liberation Treatment Patient Kingston MS patient Mike Lortie travelled to Costa Rica to receive liberation treatment.

EMC Lifestyle – One of the biggest health stories of 2010 was undoubtedly the controversial new liberation treatment, a procedure that involves opening the jugular veins of Multiple Sclerosis patients in an effort to improve their quality of life. Because the treatment has not yet been approved in Canada, those who wish to have it done must travel out of the country.

Events such as the recent passing of a St. Catherines man, Mahir Mostic, as the result of the procedure, as well as an announcement from Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall that the province is willing to fund clinical trials of the treatment, suggest that the topic is sure to become even more heated in 2011.

A Kingston man, Mike Lortie, received liberation treatment last September in Costa Rica. Nearly four months later, he remains convinced of its benefits, and is fighting to have the procedure brought to Canada.

Lortie says that the positive results of the treatment were visible from the moment he came out of the operation room.

“My wife immediately noticed that there was more colour in my face,” he recalls. “The very next day I was telling my doctor what colour his shirt was through my left eye, which had been (colour-blind) for the last two-and-a-half years.”

“My vision is progressively getting better,” he adds. “Every day there’s more detail I can make out.”

Lortie notes that his balance greatly improved after the treatment, and that his temperature even began to regulate itself again.

“Right away the tingling in my hands was gone, and my feet felt warm – before they were always cold,” he says, adding that he is now able to sweat for the first time in over two years.

Witnessing the similar success of his fellow patients further convinced Lortie of liberation treatment’s benefits.

“One lady hadn’t been able to use her hands in over seven years, but by the time we left she was typing with both hands,” he says. “Another man was in a wheelchair when we first went down, but after the procedure was taking steps.”

Lortie explains that the procedure he and most patients receive is slightly different from that undergone by Mostic, who had stents put in his jugular veins to keep them open.

“(Liberation treatment creator Dr. Paolo Zamboni) has always said not to use the stents,” he said. “As much as I feel for (the Mostic family’s) loss, I think (his death) proves why we need this procedure here in Canada.”

Lortie notes that there were constantly between 35 and 47 people at the hospital in Costa Rica during his stay there, most of whom were Canadian.

“At one point every province was represented, which (further indicates the demand for the procedure),” he says.

The cost of seeking liberation treatment abroad is also considerable. Traveling to Costa Rica for two weeks to have the procedure done cost Lortie and his wife, Aileen Young, just under $20,000.

“But what’s the price of freedom?” he asks. “This is about getting certain portions of your life back. You can’t put a price on that. We will never regret going down there and spending that money.”

Lortie adds that he has received amazing support – both emotional and financial – from his friends and family, who helped him raise money to pay for the treatment by holding a benefit.

“Your family is supposed to be there for you but your friends have that option,” he says. “I honestly believe that I no longer have a distinct line between them. My friends are my family and my family are my friends, and I thank them all immensely.”

He is also thankful for his Kingston doctor, MS specialist Dr. Donald Brunet.

“Like a lot of people, he is waiting for all the findings to come in (before making up his mind about the treatment),” says Lortie. “But he didn’t turn me away because I went to have it.”

Dr. Brunet could not be reached for comment, but the Canadian Medical Association and the Association of Ontario Neurologists both maintain that patients should wait until more research has been done on the procedure before seeking liberation treatment.

Lortie is optimistic that this position will soon change.

“It was sad to have to go so far to receive this treatment, but the benefits are just phenomenal,” he says. “The way I feel right now is just absolutely tremendous.”