Montel Williams discusses controversial MS treatment
Published Sunday, October 23, 2011 10:35PM EDT
Having spent much of his adult life coping with multiple sclerosis and trying various medical options, former talk show host Montel Williams decided an experimental -- and controversial -- treatment was worth the risk: liberation therapy.
"The only way I can figure out whether or not this works is if I do it myself," he said of the June 30 medical procedure, which involved a balloon angioplasty to open three narrowed veins in his neck and chest.
When his veins were unblocked, the effect was immediate, he told CTV News.
"That's when I immediately noticed the first difference," Williams said, in his first public comments about his personal experience with the procedure. "I got off the table and bent over to put on my shoes and I realized I wasn't holding on to anything."
While Williams says that the treatment isn't a panacea for all of his symptoms, he is adamant that the therapy has benefits for sufferers. Williams spoke to CTV News while in Winnipeg for a recent speaking engagement.
But the traditional medical community has so far refused to endorse liberation therapy, which tries to improve blood flow from the brain to counter the chronic fatigue felt by MS patients.
In fact, a study published early in the Canadian Medical Association Journal early this month concluded that evidence of a link between blocked veins and MS is too conflicting and inconsistent to draw any concrete conclusions.
Still, for the last two years, Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni has popularized a theory that blocked or malformed neck veins cause or somehow contribute to MS, and that angioplasty can treat symptoms.
But the findings of the new study indicate it's still too early to know whether blocked veins, a condition described by Dr. Zamboni as chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), plays a role in multiple sclerosis, according to the researchers.
The new study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and was used by an expert panel earlier this year to help determine whether the federal government should pay for clinical trials investigating the safety and efficacy of the vein-widening procedure. The panel ruled there was enough evidence to warrant clinical trials, which the government has pledged to fund.
"I think it's really hard to come to any conclusion, any definitive conclusion," said Andreas Laupacis, lead author of the study and executive director of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. "We won't know for a few years the full story."
Meanwhile, thousands of patients and advocates continue to pressure governments to bring the treatment to Canada. They have had limited success, with Saskatchewan pledging last week to pay $2 million for 80 patients to get the treatment in the U.S. and participate in a study there.
After his angioplasty in June, Williams said his level of pain and his walking remained the same, although he is now able to withstand heat, a common complaint among those with MS.
In summers past, Williams had travelled to South America to ski and escape the heat.
"I feel normal. This summer I stayed in New York," he said, adding that he experienced temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius. "This changed my life."
But other symptoms haven't gotten better, and Williams admits that some improvements could be the result of a placebo effect.
Still, one thing Williams is concrete about, however, is clinics outside of North America charging patients large amounts of money to "cure" their MS.
Williams said that charging up to $30,000 for the procedure is unacceptable. Instead, the cost should be a more reasonable $10,000.
Williams was diagnosed with MS in 1999 and soon became a front-line spokesman for other sufferers.
"As you know, I fight it every single day," he said. "It's a quiet scourge."
Before getting the therapy, Williams consulted with doctors at Stanford University and at a clinic in San Diego, where an MRI, brainscan and other tests confirmed that he had three narrowed veins in his neck and chest.
Still, he is not advocating the controversial treatment, although he is pushing for more research and is taking part in a U.S. study.
"We need to now bring all the doctors in this together in the United States and sit down in one room and talk about how we are all going to share this data, so we can move this process forward so much quicker," Williams said.
With files from CTV Medical Specialist Avis Favaro