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How innovative first-in-Canada treatment options for OCD gave Matthew hope for the future

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Written by Jennifer Palisoc

Matthew Ho is living a life he once thought wouldn’t be possible.

These days he is working part-time and volunteering with Sunnybrook’s Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre helping clients diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD.

Matthew understands this journey. He was diagnosed with OCD when he was 16 years old. Now, seven years later, he is on an inspiring path of his own and managing his OCD.

“I never thought I’d be able to enjoy life and fully commit to giving something my all,” he says.

What is Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

OCD has been recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the top 10 most disabling illnesses worldwide. Symptoms of OCD may include repetitive, intrusive or disturbing thoughts, impulses or images that cause anxiety which are known as ‘obsessions.’ They are often accompanied by compulsions or rituals which involve repetitive behaviours or actions.

“Patients with OCD can experience symptoms that are extremely debilitating to the point where they may be severely disabled, often becoming homebound, and unable to work or engage in activities important to everyday life,” says Dr. Peggy Richter, head of the Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre at Sunnybrook, Canada’s most specialized centre in OCD and related disorders. “Treatment-resistant OCD occurs when an individual has tried psychotherapy as well as medication, but these conventional treatments haven’t worked or helped to improve the OCD.”

Looking back, Matthew remembers counting footsteps as a child.

“I could only go to 22 and then I’d get stuck and have to start over,” he explains. “I had a hard time moving place to place or going anywhere.”

Counting led to other rituals including pacing, going up and down stairs, and progressed to Matthew hitting himself in the head to cope with unwanted and intrusive thoughts around the fear that his mother would die if he did not complete his rituals.

Innovative treatment options

Over the years, Matthew’s OCD consumed his life. By 2017, he was barely eating or taking care of his personal needs.

That year, Matthew was referred to Canada’s first and only OCD intensive residential program at Sunnybrook. The team recommended a non-invasive procedure called The Gamma Knife Icon, which uses highly targeted high-dose radiation to reach a precise location in the brain to disrupt misfiring cells associated with OCD, without the need for cutting into the skin or scalpels.

Sunnybrook was the first in Canada to use the technique for treatment-resistant OCD.

With treatment, Matthew says he was able to “talk more fluidly and had motivation to do things again.”

Eventually, doctors recommended he resume treatment at the intensive residential program at the Thompson Centre where the team-based approach, therapy and program helped Matthew develop skills to manage his OCD. A journey that Matthew says involved “some of the hardest work I’ve done in my life.”

He now shares his insights and provides support to new clients at the centre, which continues to provide services virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matthew: “Don’t stop fighting your OCD”

Matthew connects with clients by phone or video-conferencing to help answer their questions and provide support.

He offers this message to those dealing with their OCD.

“Don’t ever stop fighting your OCD. Even if you lose the fight, it’s good to resist [to help you improve],” he says.

It has taken a lot of hard work to get to where he is today and Matthew hopes to continue helping others and sharing his inspiring story of hope.

“I feel proud that I’ve come this far,” he smiles.

About the author

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Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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