Image by nats via Flickr
This Wednesday, March 10, I'm scheduled to undergo a diagnostic venogram, looking for stenosis (narrowing) and/or other abnormalities in my azygos and jugular veins. If any such anomalies are found, they will be addressed via a balloon procedure. The venogram itself involves feeding a catheter from a vein in my upper thigh, through my vascular system, to the veins associated with the central nervous system. In the parlance of CCSVI, this is known as the "Liberation Procedure". (For info on CCSVI, click here)
The procedure will be performed at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, by Dr. Salvatore J. A. Sclafani, the Chief of Radiology of the facility. He's also Professor and Chairman of Radiology at the SUNY Downstate Medical School. Dr. Sclafani has a long history of innovation in the field of interventional radiology, and is excited to be at the vanguard of CCSVI research and treatment. He attended the recent CCSVI conference in Hamilton, Ontario, along with all of the acknowledged experts in the field, including Dr. Paolo Zamboni, who developed the CCSVI hypothesis. Dr. Sclafani continues to regularly consult with Dr. Zamboni.
I'm hopeful that the procedure will prove to be of benefit, but I'm also trying to keep in mind the realities of my situation. It's important to understand that my illness is highly atypical. There's much question about my diagnosis, and it's quite likely that what is causing my neurodegeneration is not MS.
The neuro immunology team at the National Institutes of Health has examined me extensively, and has concluded that my disease does not fit any of the diagnostic criteria that are required to label my condition Multiple Sclerosis. They aren't sure what I do have, but one of the possibilities they've talked about is that my disease may be primarily vascular in nature, since a CT venogram done this summer did reveal stenosis very high up in my left internal jugular, unfortunately in a spot that will be difficult to fix. However, Dr. Zamboni has recently expressed the opinion that stenosis high in the jugulars is often secondary to stenosis found lower in the vein, and that addressing the lower stenosis often opens up the upper problem as well.
My primary neurologist here in New York is less convinced that I don't have MS, but agrees that whatever disease afflicts me is highly atypical. I have only one significant lesion, at the very base of my brainstem, which has not changed in size or appearance in the nine years that I've been getting regular MRI imaging. My spinal fluid is clear of O-bands or other evidence of inflammation, and my clinical presentation is at odds with the results of my diagnostic testing. I do have evidence of "autoimmune activity", such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and some unexplained episodes in my medical history.
As a result of this lack of clarity regarding my diagnosis, Dr. Sclafani and I are unsure as to what Wednesday's venogram will reveal, or that addressing any problems that do show up will have any beneficial impact at all on my condition. If I don't have MS, then the CCSVI theory doesn't even apply to me. However, my disease progression continues unabated, and since I already know that I have stenosis in my CNS venous anatomy, it makes sense to further investigate the possibility that vascular problems may be playing a part in my illness.
Thanks to the diligence and hard work of a very small group of grassroots activist MS patients, who relentlessly sought out physicians who would pick up the CCSVI gauntlet, Dr. Sclafani agreed to look at the available evidence, and upon doing so became convinced that the CCSVI theory has merit and warrants serious investigation. After much study and consideration, he's recently begun performing catheter venogram procedures on MS patients, and has found a high correlation between MS and CNS venous abnormalities. He's addressed these abnormalities using balloon angioplasty, to gently force open the azygos and/or jugular veins of his patients.
I first met with Dr. Sclafani about six weeks ago, and he devoted over three hours to consulting with my wife and me. After first being examined by the hospital’s neurologist, I sat down with Dr. Sclafani to go over the results of the CT venogram that had been done this past summer. The good doctor carefully examined dozens of the images contained in the scan, explaining what he saw in each one to Karen and me.
Since my diagnosis, I've met with some of the most renowned doctors in the land, but have encountered few as empathetic and considerate as Dr. Sclafani. Rather than being talked to, I felt I was being talked with, and Dr. Sclafani responded to all of my concerns and unhesitatingly voiced a few of his own. He was scheduled to go to the Hamilton CCSVI symposium about a week after my appointment with him, and we decided to put off making any treatment decisions until after he attended the symposium and had a chance to consult with the assembled doctors.
Our consultation lasted far longer than had been anticipated, and the doctor’s staff thoughtfully had a car service waiting to take my wife and I home when it ended. Dr. Sclafani personally saw my wife and me out of the facility, then helped me into the car. Other than my primary neurologist, Dr. Saud Sadiq, who is also quite exceptional, I don't know many other doctors who would exhibit such down to earth humanity.
After the Hamilton symposium, Dr. Sclafani contacted me and told me he thought we should move forward with the venogram. His assistant Holly attentively handled all the arrangements, and this past Thursday I went back to Kings County for pre-op testing. Thus far, every step of this process has been handled in a professional, timely, and even (gasp!) cheerful manner. Hopefully, the actual procedure will go just as smoothly...
If I were recently diagnosed, or my symptom profile was more mild, I think I'd wait to see what the coming wave of CCSVI research reveals before undergoing this procedure. The speed with which my disease is progressing, though, makes it not too hard to envision the Wheelchair Kamikaze becoming the Mattress Kamikaze in the foreseeable future, and I'm determined to do everything I possibly can to cut that eventuality off at the knees. Upon my diagnosis, just about seven years ago, I vowed that if this son of a bitch was going to take me down, it was going to take me down fighting, all guns blazing, both fists bloodied, and with bite marks firmly implanted in its skull. This is war, and surrender is not an option.
For those interested in contacting Dr. Sclafani, please e-mail his assistant Holly Barr (firstname.lastname@example.org).