MS patients seek controversial treatment

PHILADELPHIA; July 26, 2011

And it is being tested in the United States. However could is help or just spark false hopes?

But while doctors struggle with that question, dozens of multiple sclerosis sufferers continue coming to Philadelphia, hoping that it is.

45-year-old Sam Fulginiti is a proud father of 5-year-old Hunter.

But he says multiple sclerosis or MS makes it difficult to do all he wants to do with his son.

"I just don't have the energy," the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, resident told us.

Which is why he came to the Peripheral Vascular Institute of Philadelphia. It's one of a few centers nationwide offering a procedure some believe can help relieve symptoms of MS.

Sam is hoping for more energy, clearer thinking and more mobility in his hands.

"I just have tightness, numbness in my hands," he told us.

The procedure is known as venous angioplasty.

It was developed by Dr. Paolo Zamboni who believes the cause of MS is a blockage of blood flow in veins draining from the brain to the heart, also known as CCSVI. So vascular surgeon Dr. James McGuckin opens the vessels, in a procedure similar to angioplasty.

Still he tells patients it won't work for everyone. In fact, he says Dr. Zamboni's results show out of 65v patients, one-third show no improvements, one-third show moderate improvements and one-third showed dramatic improvements. It's those dramatic results which make Dr. McGuckin a believer.

"We've had 5 people get out of wheelchairs and walk in a week. I mean it's amazing experiences," he says.

Jeannine Baker, of Ontario, Canada, is also a believer. She had the procedure done in New York over a year ago.

At the time she says she was using a walker and scooter. Afterward -

"My balance improved, my coordination improved. I was able to squat down and stand up again," she says.

She came to Philadelphia to have the procedure again, because she is losing her balance again. She hopes clearing more veins will help.

But Dr. Steven Galetta, a neurologist and MS expert at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania warns against the procedure.

"I think it is important to emphasize that in the last year, there have been at least 6 major studies from around the world that have not been able to confirm the findings of Dr. Zamboni.

Plus he points out there has been at least one death associated with the treatment.

Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, Montgomery County was doing venous angioplasty procedures, however, it suddenly stopped in spring 2010. Doctors there say they are awaiting the results of the clinical trials.

We visited Sam and his family about 4 weeks after the procedure. His mom says she noticed improvements right away.

"I noticed it yes on the way back to the train," Sam says. "I noticed more mobility, more agility. He seemed more alive."

Sam also says he feels more energetic, and has more mobility in his hands.

A simple task like tying his sneakers, which was a big challenge before the procedure, was much easier afterward.

"I feel like it has made a difference in my life," says Sam.

Dr. Galetta says that change may simply be the nature of MS, with symptoms coming or going with or without treatment.

"I think until we get better evidence- I cannot recommend this procedure to any patient with MS," he says.

Based on medical standards, this is still an unproven treatment despite promising stories.

The patients being treated here locally are being followed by a research foundation. And there is a government clinical trial underway in upstate New York. Early results from that trial are expected sometime this fall.

The MS Society has not taken a stance on the procedure yet, however it has funded several studies. A spokesperson says they are waiting for the results of those studies before making any recommendations.

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