A Saskatchewan man with multiple sclerosis is among thousands in Canada eager to try a promising, but unproven surgical treatment — but he needs to raise $25,000 Cdn so he can go to India for the procedure.
Shaun Frankowski of Regina found out three years ago he has MS, a disease of the nervous system that can cause severe physical impairment.
Frankowski, 30, says fatigue, neck pain and motor dysfunction are constant symptoms. At any time, the SaskPower employee could lose the sight in his left eye, as he has once before.
'I'm not saying it's a cure, but I'm saying it looks good, it's very promising.' —Shaun Frankowski
But Frankowski received a glimmer of hope a few months ago, when he read about a new study that showed promising results for a small group of patients.
Dr. Paolo Zamboni, an Italian vascular surgeon at the University of Ferrara, believes MS is caused by blocked veins in the neck or chest, preventing blood from draining properly from the brain. He has developed surgery to unclog the veins.
Since then, MS patients around Canada have been clamouring to learn if they have narrow veins and whether treatment is available.
Earlier this year, Frankowski got his veins tested. He says doctors in India tell him he's a perfect candidate for the procedure, which is similar to angioplasty.
"I'm not saying it's a cure, but I'm saying it looks good, it's very promising," he said. "If I was to not do it and find out that it was part of the cure ... to me, you're not just letting yourself down, but your family."
MS society warns more research needed
Canadian trials studying MS patients are underway, with one study involving the University of Saskatchewan. However, the procedure has not been approved for general application in Canada.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada says it hopes the study can turn into a treatment one day, but it's too soon to jump to conclusions.
"It's still a very new hypothesis and there needs to be more research done to support the studies coming out of Italy," says Lindsay Bryson, a spokeswoman for the society.
Despite the risks, Frankowski says he wants the surgery right away.
He said the estimated cost of the operation in the U.S. — about $70,000 — is out of his reach, so he's using a surgical tourism company out of British Columbia to travel to India at a cost of $25,000.
He's scheduled to leave at the beginning of May, but first has to raise the money. He is doing that through various fundraising events organized by his family and friends, as well as through his website.