Duncan Thornton (above), who lives in Winnipeg, will travel to Poland with his brother Evan, who lives in Ottawa, for surgery that both men hope will ease their multiple sclerosis symptoms. ((CBC))

An Ottawa man with multiple sclerosis is cashing in his retirement savings to go to Poland on Monday for controversial surgery he hopes will relieve his symptoms.

Evan Thornton, 49, is a busy community activist, online newspaper publisher and father. But MS has been slowing his pace. The condition has left him with numbness on the right side of his body, and his headaches and fatigue, common MS symptoms, have been getting worse.

Thornton says a new surgical procedure has given him hope. The treatment is based on the theory that MS is linked to chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, a condition where blocked veins in the neck or chest prevent blood from draining properly from the brain.

Dr. Paolo Zamboni, the Italian vascular surgeon who came up with the theory, devised an experimental treatment similar to angioplasty, which involves removing the blockage in the veins that carry blood to and from the brain. Zamboni gained international attention after he published a study in 2009 that suggested the treatment was highly successful in reducing MS symptoms.

The surgery in Poland, based on Zamboni's work, will cost Thornton about $10,000. It's not covered under his health insurance, as the treatment is still being researched in North America. But some doctors overseas offer to perform it.

Thornton said he's not willing to wait for the surgery to be accepted by North American doctors.

"I'm turning 50 this year and this is a chance to start so many things again," he said.

Younger brother to make trip

Thornton won't be alone when he flies to Poland. His younger brother Duncan, who lives in Winnipeg and also has MS, will be going with him for the same procedure.

The 47-year-old Winnipeg author said the procedure presents a chance to lead a more normal life.

"I've got two little kids and I've got other books I'd like to write," he said. "There's a good chance I'll go on having mild symptoms for a long time, but it's an unpredictable disease."

Like his brother, Duncan is paying $10,000 for the surgery.

The MS Society of Canada has reacted to Zamboni's research with caution. In November 2009, the society said it would offer grants for researchers in Canada to examine the procedure's safety and effectiveness. In the meantime, the society urged people with MS to be patient and continue with their regular treatment, which often includes medication.

Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world, according to an international survey.

The 2008 Atlas of Multiple Sclerosis showed MS strikes 133 people out of every 100,000 in Canada, the fifth highest rate among countries surveyed between 2004 and 2005.