Treating MS: Inflating Veins, Deflating Symptoms

FRESNO, Calif.

Now, patients are travelling hundreds, even thousands of miles, for a controversial treatment that's only performed by a few doctors in the U.S.

"I was 25 years old when I was diagnosed with MS," Barbara Garcia told Ivanhoe.

A year ago, 48-year-old Barbara couldn't get across the room without a walker or wheelchair. Multiple sclerosis was taking its toll physically and mentally.

"It was like, 'why me?' I've been trapped in an old person's body forever," Barbara said.

Tests showed Barbara had a narrowing in the jugular veins that some say is associated with MS. when Doctor Bulent Arslan at Moffitt Cancer Center saw her tests, he agreed to do an experimental MS procedure called venoplasty for chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI. Dye is injected into the jugular veins to locate the narrowed area. Then, similar to an angioplasty, a balloon's inserted into the vein and inflated to improve blood flow from the brain toward the heart.

"We do that until we get enough improvement in the vein and the flow so that blood flow is not restricted, and she started showing improvement on the table, which I did not believe at the time," Bulent Arslan, M.D., an associate professor of radiology at the University of South Florida and associate member of the Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, said.

"He said, 'let's see if you can walk,' and sure enough, I was able to get up and walk around the bed," Barbara said.

Now, Barbara can do a lot more than that, like take care of her granddaughter, even vacation in Spain. But some doctors still believe the short- and long-term benefits of balloon venoplasty are being blown out of proportion.

"We need to make sure this procedure works, make sure it's durable, find out more about it,"Bruce Zwiebel, M.D., an interventional radiologist at Tampa General Hospital said.

Being free of a walker or wheelchair is all the proof Barbara needs.

'It's just amazing,' Barbara said.

Barbara's case was the first of 120 of these procedures for Doctor Arslan. Venoplasty is not a cure, but he says 70 to 80 percent of his MS patients whose tests confirm CCSVI show improvement after treatment. More than two-million dollars has now been committed to study the procedure in the U.S. and Canada.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at

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