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A light at the end of the tunnel 0

HEATHER PICKETT

Globe Staff

LACOMBE- For Noreen Leasak, the saying "a light at the end of the tunnel" isn't just an old adage, it's words of a truth she's embracing fully.

"I can't imagine them not finding a cure," said Leasak, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) 13 years ago. "I believe there is something out there that can help people with MS and that we're getting that much closer to finding it."

And Leasak is certain she's getting closer to reclaiming her life from a disease which leaves her battling extreme fatigue, pain and numbness in her limbs daily.

Her name is among a group of three Canadians who will travel to India in February to receive groundbreaking treatment.

As a woman who describes herself as someone who "doesn't like to take no for an answer," Leasak has exhibited a single-minded determination in finding a procedure, a treatment, and a specialist, who may hold the key to an eventual cure for MS.

After watching a W5 program on Italian Dr. Paolo Zamboni and his revolutionary liberation treatment, she recalls turning to her husband and saying "I think he's got it."

"It was the first time where I really thought 'this might be it, this guy's onto something,"' she said.

A retired vascular surgeon and professor at the University of Ferrara in Northern Italy, Dr. Zamboni was inspired to develop the liberation treatment by his wife's battle with MS. Dr. Zamboni's research showed, in almost 100% of the patients he examined, there was a narrowing, twisting or outright blockage of the veins that are supposed to flush blood from the brain, with an abnormality showing up in the azygous vein - one of seven in the thorax - in many instances.

Dr. Zamboni then developed a treatment, the liberation treatment, to open the blockages to restore normal blood flow, with the few doctors around the world who will perform the procedure, doing so by either angioplasty or placing a stent in the affected vein.

"After seeing the W5 program I just researched as much as I could about Dr. Zamboni and his procedure and did everything I could to get myself on a list to have it done," she said.

In early December she flew to Vancouver to have blood work, an ultrasound and an MRI done at the False Creek Medical Centre, home to a T3 MRV machine, the only one in clinical use in all of Canada.

After getting the results back, Leasak is returning for a second MRI this week.

"The results are being reviewed again by doctors because the technology is still quite new with this kind of MRI, and they couldn't find any blockages or twisted veins," she said. "The focus of the second one will be on finding the azygous vein and seeing if it's blocked.

"I can't believe they won't find it blocked or twisted. If they don't then I'll cancel the trip, but if they do, I'll be on that plane to India in February."

Currently, there isn't a place in Canada offering the treatment and very few places in the U.S. But at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai, India, Leasak hopes to find her cure.

"I'll be part of a group going with Surgical Tourism Canada Inc., out of Vancouver," she said. "And from everything I've heard about the hospital and Surgical Tourism and the people I've spoken to, I'm not apprehensive anymore.

"I just can't sit by and do nothing to find a way to help people with MS. We only have so much time and I don't want to spend that waiting, waiting to see if something comes along, waiting to see if I end up bound to a wheelchair as it progresses."

The mandate of Surgical Tourism Canada Inc. is "to reduce waiting times for Canadians in need of elective surgeries."

While president and CEO Dr. Yasmeen Sayeed was not available for comment at press time, the organization's website says they have entered into "strategic alliances with world class JCI accredited hospitals in India, U.S., Canada and Mexico to make all arrangements in accordance with the Canadian health services delivery standards for Canadians to have timely access to surgical treatments."

If the second MRV doesn't reveal twisted or blocked veins, Leasak's potential ace in the hole will be to have Dr. Sayeed send the images to the experts, including Dr. Zamboni himself.

Leasak has spoken with three people who have had the liberation treatment, and each one offered her further hope.

"I talked to one man, asking how he was doing and he told me he had the procedure a year and a half ago and that, at the time, he had relapsing and remitting MS, the same as me," she said. "He had a numb arm and leg, same as me, and was dealing with extreme fatigue, same as me, and he said 30 minutes after the liberation treatment, he got a tingling sensation back in his fingertips, which he hadn't experienced for a number of years.

"By the following morning he had feeling in both his arm and leg, they were no longer numb. And as far as his extreme fatigue, he said it gets better every day. He said right now 'I'm feeling 100% and it's like I'm 16 again' and has never had a MS attack since the procedure.'"

That same freedom from a disease that forced her to change her life is something Leasak is hoping she finds.

"I just want to feel better," she said. "This treatment is offering people hope and solutions and not often do you get those in the same sentence. I want the rest of my life without worry for me, without worry for my family because MS doesn't just affect the person who has it."