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MS Treatment’s New Age

Jan 12, 2017, 09:39 AM by Sansum Clinic
Man in wheelchair
After leaving Santa Barbara to attend medical school, perform clinical research in multiple sclerosis, and practice neurology at a major medical center, Dr. Timothy West has returned to the town in which he grew up. In the interim, neuroscience has grown up as well.

“This is a new age in MS treatment,” says Dr. West. “Twenty years ago, doctors diagnosed the disease and moved on. There was no effective treatment. Now that’s all changed, and neurology has become a treating profession.” In the last several years, clinical research has resulted in FDA-approval of a dozen new MS medicines. When prescribed early enough – before MS has a chance to inflict permanent damage to the central nervous system – the medicines can effectively slow the progress of the disease.

Dr. West knows from personal experience how difficult it is for patients and their families to cope with chronic illness. His mother, Abby, has lived with MS for most of her adult life. “She had minor symptoms for many years, and was finally diagnosed when I was a teenager,” says Dr. West. “Just before I was about to start medical school, she had a severe attack that left her unable to walk.”

The impact of Abby’s disability on the West family was profound. “My mother was super-woman,” says Dr. West, “Our family was devastated.” Newly motivated to find out everything he could about MS, Dr. West decided to change his specialty from pediatrics to neuroscience, and even took a year off from medical school to perform clinical research at UC San Francisco, with a grant from the MS Society.

Life experience, an optimistic outlook and his cutting-edge research background help Dr. West stand out in a field that was once notorious for its dry, diagnostic tone. An engaging and persuasive speaker, Dr. West lectures at American Academy of Neurology symposia and at a consortium of MS centers. Published in leading medical journals such as Discovery Medicine and Annals of Neurology, it’s no wonder his efforts to garner serious financial support from The National MS Society, Hilton Hotels, Gloria Estefan, and others, met with huge success in Las Vegas, where he helped establish a prominent MS Center at The Cleveland Clinic Lou Rovo Center for Brain Health.

Dr. West’s personal connection to his chosen field has shaped his approach to medicine. “Most academic centers are driven by research,” says Dr. West. “My drive has always been to take care of patients.” The advent of new MS medicines which have the power to lessen the impact of attacks and slow neurological impairment, yet do not cure the disease, has made taking care of patients increasingly complex. Doctors, nurses and patients must work closely together, trying out different combinations of medicines and monitoring their effects, in order to match the right prescription to the person. The field of MS treatment, like oncology, calls for medical professionals who have specialized training in order to provide the most effective personal care.

At Sansum Clinic, Dr. West and his colleagues in neurology hold educating patients as a priority, because teaching someone about his or her chronic condition is the best way to prevent attacks. An MS-certified nurse, Deanna Power, rare in a small city setting, helps fulfill this imperative. “We try to drive your symptoms away so you can live the kind of life you want to,” says Dr. West. For persons diagnosed with MS and other autoimmune diseases of the central nervous system, this means regular physical exams and consultations with nurse and neurologist, tracking with MRIs— even when the patient is feeling fine. According to Dr. West, if you have MS and want to achieve NEDA, short for ‘No Evidence of Disease Activity,’ then “communication is key. Tell me how you’re doing. My goal is to make you annoyed that you’re doing so well and still have to come in and be monitored.”

Heightening the level of personal care and extending it to the patient’s family members is what distinguishes a top tier MS center. While in Las Vegas, Dr. West designed a social work program with patient advocates and support groups that reached thousands of people. Now that he has returned to Santa Barbara, he plans to cultivate resources and bring them to bear on the greater community, making Sansum Clinic the true center for comprehensive MS patient care on the Central Coast. For Dr. West, this goal is personal as well as professional.

Dr. Timothy West

Board-certified neurologist, Dr. Timothy West worked at our Neurology department at 317 W. Pueblo St in 2017. He received his medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco and completed his residency at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. After his residency, Dr. West completed his neurology fellowship at the University of California San Francisco Multiple Sclerosis Center.