Costa Rican Hospital Offers MS Patients ‘A Miracle’

November 22, 2010

Kathy Siddall was at the point of asking her doctor to amputate her leg. She had been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) for two decades, but it seemed like every day she was getting worse.

Siddal suffered bouts of extreme fatigue, couldn’t use her right hand, endured an unbearable pain in her leg and said her eyesight had degenerated to such a point that her glasses “were like Coke bottles.”

Siddal, 47, was one of the first patients to travel to Costa Rica for a treatment known as liberation therapy. She spent 14 days here in June, received treatment, then returned home to Canada the next month as “a different person.”

“I’ve been living inside a miracle,” said Siddall. “I can feel my fingertips and wiggle my toes. I am awake with a ton of energy … and I can read again,” she said.

Since Clínica Bíblica, located in Costa Rica’s capital San José, began offering liberation therapy last June, the hospital has admitted more than 400 patients with MS, most of them sent by a company called Passport Medical. Patients pay $13,900 for a 13-day trip that includes hotel, medication, treatment and follow-up care.

Five vascular surgeons are on staff at Clinica Biblica to perform the procedure, which involves expanding the veins in the neck to improve blood flow. The treatment was developed by an Italian doctor, Paolo Zamboni, who was looking for a cure for MS for his wife.

Last month, 35-year-old Mahir Mostic from Canada died at the Clínica Bíblica Hospital after developing complications from the treatment. After traveling to Costa Rica to have the surgery in June, Mostic’s condition worsened when he returned to his home in Ontario, Canada. He returned to Costa Rica for follow-up care last month, and died Oct. 19.

 Siddall had a vastly different experience. “I needed nothing from the minute I landed,” she said, praising the hospital’s quality of care and the program’s attentiveness. “Every detail was attended to. Everything was well-explained before, during and after,” she said.

But Mostic’s death has sparked an international discussion on whether the procedure is safe and effective, and under what circumstances. Liberation therapy is offered in the U.S., but it is prohibited in Canada because health officials there believe more clinical trials are needed. 

Siddall says she is living proof the treatment works.

“To deny someone access to this treatment, I have a real problem with that, especially now that I know,” Siddall, who now works for Passport Medical. “To know that there is something that actually makes you feel better … it offers people hope.”

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