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MS Awareness Month: PoNS therapy helps GTA man fight against disease

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WATCH: In light of the annual MS Awareness Month campaign, one GTA man is sharing his story of how he's been able to manage his condition and take back control of his life. Brittany Rosen explains. – May 5, 2021

May marks Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Month. In light of the annual campaign, an Etobicoke, Ont., man is sharing his story of how he’s been able to manage his condition and take back control of his life.

Peter Nawalaneic says he felt off one day in 2013 while going to pick up his wife.

“I got out of the car, I started swaying around and I thought, ‘Wow, this isn’t good. If a cop sees me he’s going to think I’m drunk.'”

Nawalaneic was eventually diagnosed with MS in 2014 at the age of 60, something his doctor said was uncommon.

“I was devastated,” he said.

“I thought, ‘What’s going to become of me?’ I thought my lifespan had just been shortened immensely.”

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Read more: PoNS therapy helps Ontario woman recover from brain injury

After years of trying treatments he describes as ineffective, the Etobicoke man then stumbled across a therapy called PoNS while watching a television advertisement. With nothing to lose, he decided to give it a try. He visited Propel Physiotherapy, which has offices in Etobicoke and Pickering, twice a day, five times a week for 14 weeks.

“It was a mood changer, that was probably the biggest effect of it. That, plus having more stamina,” he said.

“As I got into it I started to feel better about myself.”

The program involves PoNS technology paired with intensive physiotherapy. The device works by priming the nervous system for learning, potentially allowing for restoration of lost function, which in MS patients can result in improved walking and mobility.

“We’ve had four clients complete the program, four of them with MS. They’ve all made significant improvements in their walking speed and quality,” said Propel Physiotherapy’s executive director Kyle Whaley.

Watch: Canada leads the way in MS-related research

“The device’s stimulation coupled with this really intense program of movement, balance, specific exercises as well as a breathing awareness and mindfulness has shown to improve people’s walking and balance.”

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Whaley says although the program has been helping those living with MS for over a decade, it remains pricey, with a cost of roughly $11,000 for combined technology and physiotherapy.

The MS Society of Canada says they have been continuously advocating to make the treatment more accessible for people of all income levels.

“If (people) have private insurance they might have coverage, but we’re advocating to the federal and provincial governments all the time that very Canadian should have accessibility to all the various treatments,” said president and CEO Pam Valentine.

Valentine says due to the pandemic and subsequent cancellations of the organization’s annual community walk and bike fundraisers, there have been negative implications on its work towards helping those with the disease.

Read more: Multiple sclerosis in Canada: Understanding why MS rates are the highest here

“We’ve had a huge drop in revenue in the course of the pandemic,” she said.

“(The fundraisers) pay for the programs we deliver in the community. They pay for the support systems that we have, including programs that might provide somebody with a piece of equipment. They pay for the massive number of research investments we make on an annual basis.”

With community events cancelled due to the pandemic, the organization is currently encouraging people to safely walk for MS on their own during the month of May.

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Valentine says there are currently 90,000 people across Canada living with the disease.

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