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Passport Medical says about 19 people a week are getting treatment through their program at a Costa Rican hospital and hotel. ((Passport Medical))

A Vancouver-based medical tourism company is cashing in on the reluctance by many provincial governments to fund a controversial therapy to treat multiple sclerosis.

Passport Medical has arranged for foreign treatment using so-called liberation therapy for more than 350 MS sufferers from all over North America, said company owner Mark Semple.

The company's two-week trips include surgery and recovery care in Costa Rica for about $13,000. Semple said the outcome for many of the patients is encouraging.  

"Some of the things I've seen could only be described as miracles," he said. "Is it a cure? No. Is there a vascular component of the disease? I can only say yes."

But the treatment remains controversial. It was first proposed by Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni, and is based on the unproven theory that blocked neck veins are linked to MS and that using angioplasty to open the veins can restore function to people with the disease.

Most provincial governments say the experimental treatment still needs more study before it can be widely adopted, although research trials have been launched in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan.

Was skeptical at first

The sudden popularity of the new treatment has prompted Jeff Donegan of Chilliwack, B.C., to sign up to get the therapy through  another company in California.

"When [liberation therapy] first came out, I was very skeptical," said Donegan, 31.

But five years of constant nerve pain, blindness in one eye and severe fatigue have been a nightmare, he said.

"Every day is different," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to wake up to."

Donegan said one of his sons has heard about the treatment and wants his father to go for it.

"He tells me all the time that he'd like his dad to stay awake for a whole day," said Donegan. "His hope from this is that I'll stay awake for Christmas Day."

MS is described in mainstream medicine as a degenerative disease of the nerves, which can lead to overall deterioration of health, often with severe muscle weakness.