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N.B. neurologist at centre of disease investigation to change clinics; families demand answers

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A New Brunswick neurologist who first categorized patients as having an unknown brain disease will soon stop working at the clinic created to treat them

The Horizon Health Network confirms Dr. Alier Marrero’s last day at the Moncton Interdisciplinary Neurodegenerative Diseases (MIND) Clinic will be Aug. 1.

Horizon wouldn’t answer specific questions Thursday about the circumstances of Dr. Marrero’s departure from the Moncton Hospital’s MIND Clinic, aside from saying patients had the option of following him to Moncton’s Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre for continuing care at his primary practice.

In response to a request for comment, Dr. Marrero said he wasn’t authorized to comment without approval from the health authorities.

New Brunswick’s Department of Health didn’t respond to a request for comment on the subject.

“It’s a very important distinction that he’s not leaving, he was removed,” said Steve Ellis, the son of Roger Ellis, who was identified as being part of the cluster under investigation.

In an interview Thursday, Ellis said the physician was being “muzzled” by the provincial government.

“They’re not allowing him to speak and it’s been that way for quite some time,” said Ellis, who added his father will continue seeing Dr. Marrero as a patient.

“The choice of seeing a brand new neurologist who is going to start from scratch is not an option,” said Ellis. “Dr. Marrero knows our patients, knows our stories, has done the tests, has done the due diligence, and of course we’re going to follow him.”

“Yes, that means we’re going to lose access to supports and services offered at the MIND Clinic. But that’s the right thing to do for my father,” adds Ellis. “I’ve spoken with others who are going to do the same thing.”

In a statement, Horizon Health said ongoing followup treatments at the MIND Clinic would include “support from the interdisciplinary team consisting of two geriatricians, two neurologists, two registered nurses, a neuropsychologist, a social worker, a researcher, and associates in psychiatry, speech language pathology, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy.”

In March 2021, the New Brunswick government first confirmed it was investigating a cluster of unknown neurological disorders, with symptoms similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. 

An investigation last fall from CTV’s W5 made note of how the provincial government had begun distancing Dr. Marrero from inclusion in its ongoing investigation.

In February, a report from six neurologists – which didn’t include Dr. Marrero – concluded no such mystery illness existed within the province.

“This does not mean that these people are not seriously ill,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, during a Feb. 24 news conference. “It means they are ill with a known neurological condition.”

The report detailed symptoms from 48 patients, which included sudden movements, hallucinations, memory loss, and behavioral changes.

Siblings Jill and Tim Beatty lost their father, Laurie, in 2019. They say the rapid decline of their father’s health only became more painful as they tried to learn more about why it was happening.

“We knew from the early onset that we weren’t going to get the support that we were initially looking for from the government, so that’s why we’ve banded together,” said Jill, referencing the families of other patients identified in the initial cluster. “Its not only just because we lost our father, we’re very much looking out for fellow New Brunswickers. We want people to be educated.”

The siblings have signed an open letter to the provincial government and health authorities for Dr. Marrero to be reinstated to the MIND Clinic.

“We’re not allowing them to put the genie back in the bottle and pretend this doesn’t exist,” said Tim. 

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