PATIENT OF THE MONTH
Lael & Jean
She doesn’t wear a cape or prevent small children from falling into wells (as far as we know), but she is sort of a wonder woman.
Jean Wells has a thirst for life, an itch to try new things. Rather than watch adventurers on The Discovery Channel or National Geographic, Jean Wells became an adventurer herself. She is a pilot, avid horsewoman, scuba diver, and crafter.
Jean had perfect vision her entire life, a gift that allowed her to pursue her interests. It all ended with a series of medical mistakes.
“I was on a thyroid medication for 30 years that went off the market. My new doctor replaced it with something that backfired,” Jean said.
The new medication caused the blood pressure to Jean’s eyes to shoot up, leading to glaucoma. Within two months of her first symptoms, Jean lost her eyesight. Further treatment at the Eye Institute of Albany exacerbated the problem, leaving Jean’s eyes in worse shape.
To say it was discouraging would be an understatement, but Jean and her husband, Lael, are people of faith.
“He is the most wonderful man. If it hadn’t been for him, I don’t know what I would have done,” Jean said.
While Jean experienced the natural grief that accompanies such a loss, she has maintained her faith that something positive would happen to change the condition of her eyes.
When asked what led her to RMI, Jean said, “This is a really strange story.”
It was right after Hurricane Irene devastated their area. Of all the people who flooded into the area to help with cleanup efforts – including insurance adjusters and construction crews – was one man choose to visit Jean and Lael’s church.
Jean couldn’t see him, of course, but recalls people saying he was a “quiet, good looking man.”
She was sitting in the hallway when he approached her. “He came out and asked me my story, what happened to my eyesight. He then told me about a neighbor of his and how he had lung damage. He went to Mexico for stem cells, which was all hush-hush at the time. He came back improved and his doctor wanted to know where he had been. The man then simply said to me, ‘You must look to Mexico.’”
The stranger left with the FEMA crew the following day and Jean never did learn his name.
Being admitted into RMI’s trial turned out to be harder than the Wells’ expected. “They weren’t going to accept me because my eyes were so damaged,” Jean said.
She recalls her husband writing RMI to ask them to reconsider and their joy upon learning that she was going to be able to take part.
Their persistence paid off. Months after receiving her own stem cells, Jean’s eye doctor back home is amazed. “I just talked to my retina doctor yesterday and he said that the glaucoma is gone. He also said that my eyes are stable for the first time in eight years.”
So stable, in fact, that her U.S. doctor now believes Jean may qualify for a nerve treatment program in Boston.
“He’s so excited,” Jean said of her doctor. “He’s sort of a technophile and is really interested in what stem cells did for my eyes. I was taking six medicines a day just to keep the pressure down. They were like poison and the rest of my body really suffered with side-effects.”
While they wait for word of follow-up treatment, Jean and Lael are not wasting a moment. They are enjoying their family and friends and keeping the faith.
“Hope is alive, and it’s rather exciting. I always thought since this happened that I would be able to participate in a program and to help other people,” Jean said.
At the age of 65, Dean Stokes has taken on a new job. “I used to get up in the morning, get ready, and go to work. Now I get up in the morning, get ready, and go to the gym,” Stokes said.
A normal session at the gym these days includes two miles on the treadmill, set at a 10 percent incline. Basically, he walks uphill for two miles at a speed of 3.6 miles per hour. His routine is pretty great for a man who suffered a major heart attack three years ago.
Like so many people, Stokes rationalized his heart problems away for as long as possible. “I was under a tremendous amount of stress and had a small heart attack while I was fishing. I knew it wasn’t right, but it went away and I didn’t think about it anymore.”
Months later Stokes woke in the middle of the night with a “deep, deep burning sensation.” Again, it went away. Stokes turned over to go back to sleep, only to feel the pain return. By this time, his wife had woken and drove him to the hospital
While the drive to hospital was intense, Stokes realized that the pain was gone once they arrived. “Before I could turn around to leave, I collapsed,” Stokes recalls. “I remember everyone yelling and screaming and then everything went white.”
Stokes was transferred to another hospital for more specialized treatment. It was as he was recovering that a physician friend suggested Stokes consider stem cell treatment. Research led Stokes to call RMI.
Treated on June 10, 2010, Stokes was one of the first patients enrolled in the stem cell trial at RMI. The friend who first suggested that he look into stem cells accompanied him on the trip. “He was a doctor so I told him, ‘If you see anything that makes you nervous, get me out of here.’”
His friend assured him, “Dean, this hospital is as good or better than a lot of hospitals in the U.S.”
Asked if he was nervous about travelling to Tijuana, Stokes insists that he was not. “Once I got there, I felt extremely comfortable. The facility was first class. I could look out the window and see kids playing at school and see parents waiting to pick their kids up.”
Stokes says that he felt better immediately after his stem cell procedure, both physically and mentally. The day prior to treatment, Stokes took two walking tests. He was able to walk 495 meters in the first session, and 456 meters during the second. Three months later he was tested again. By then, he was able to walk 615 meters during one session, and 690 meters in another.
His cardiologist in Washington was so pleased with the last series of tests performed on Stokes that he now only wants to see him every six months.
Stokes says that he attributes his newfound health to three things: God, stem cells, and his own efforts to stay healthy.
“I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I don’t plan on putting myself in that position,” Stokes said.
When 72-year-old Dan Daniels discusses the financial investments he and his wife have made throughout the years, he includes his treatment at RMI.
“We’ve made some good investments and some bad investments,” Daniels said. “But this is probably the best investment we’ve ever made.”
Although early diagnosis did not label Daniels’ disease as “black lung,” he says that the symptoms were similar. At the time he began having breathing problems, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) was not part of medical vernacular or widely understood.
Dixie Daniels was in the perfect position to understand how the disease took a toll on her husband. Dan and Dixie grew up together, went their separate ways into adulthood, but managed to find their way back to one another in the early 1980s.
“I’d always kept track of him; heard stories about him,” Dixie said.
“We were both going through divorces when we became friends. We exchanged stories and eventually decided we should get married, although it scared the hell out of us. We were afraid that it would ruin a good friendship,” Dan added with a laugh.
By 1982 they were married and now share eight children, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Dixie described the changes in her husband after his diagnosis. “He was sleeping a lot, disoriented, and losing memories of when we were young. He could shower by himself if there was a stool in there with him, but he was having trouble walking. It was just heartbreaking to watch.”
Dan said that he “almost had a standing appointment” with their local emergency room where he would go for steroids and antibiotics. Even with the medication, just about anything could make him sick.
“If we were in Walmart and someone sneezed, I’d get a lung infection,” he said. “I’d be okay for four to six weeks, but then I’d get really sick again. My doctor told me that my lungs were functioning at 23 – 27 percent. It was pretty depressing.”
Dan began looking online for anything that might help him breathe easier. After reading about stem cell treatment for COPD, he asked his pulmonologist for his opinion. The doctor in Arizona was less than encouraging. He told Dan that he believed stem cell treatment for lung diseases would happen at some point, but not in either of their lifetimes.
Telling Dan Daniels that he was in end-stage COPD and there was not a thing he could do about it might just have been the prodding Dan needed.
He called RMI. “They didn’t just say, ‘bring your money and come on down.’ They had to see my medical records and make sure they could help me before I could be treated.”
In fact, Dan was surprised when RMI rejected him for their trials, telling him that he needed more tests before he could participate. Once the tests were squared away and RMI had a plan in place, the couple planned their trip.
Dixie was an enthusiastic support to her husband. “We watched my mother die of emphysema, and Dan and I were involved in her end of life care. We knew what was involved.”
Dan and Dixie were picked up in San Diego in May, 2012 and driven across the border to Hospital Angeles. Dan says that they were told that one of three things was going to happen: he would stay the same, he would undergo minor changes, or he would experience a miracle.”
“I’m a little short of laying claim to a miracle, but I haven’t been sick a day since then,” Dan said.
Dan is back in the gym three times a week and says he has no need for his nebulizer. In October he re-visited the pulmonologist who discouraged his visit to RMI.
“He asked how I was doing with my nebulizer. I told him that I’m not using it. He asked about my oxygen. I told him that I only use it at night, and I sometimes take it off because it’s irritating me. My lung capacity has increase from 10 to 12 percent. I don’t want to read something into it that’s not there and you can’t believe how cautious I am. Yet, good things keep happening.”
As friends continue to pray for him and tell his wife how much better he looks, Dan is enjoying the little things in life. He reports feeling fine during a Saturday night Christmas parade with lots of people and smoky air. He also enjoys sharing his stem cell experience with other people suffering from debilitating disease.
“Whatever our purpose is, we’re not quite done evidently,” he said.
Perhaps it is a testament to small town life, or an indication of how far stem cell research must advance before people begin thinking of it as more than science fiction. We wanted to highlight the story of a former patient – Rosa. While Rosa was happy to share her experience, she would not allow us to use her last name or photo. There are simply too many people living in her small town who would criticize or laugh at the 60-year-old woman for turning to stem cells when her knee gave out.
To this we ask: How many of them have climbed Peru’s Machu Pichu?
She says that prior to stem cell treatment it felt as though her knee “popped” up to five times a day. It hurt when she walked up stairs. Her local doctor was good about recommending Glucosamine and prescribing an anti-inflammatory, but the pain persisted.
Rosa heard about RMI and wondered if she might benefit by having her own stem cells injected into her knees. Months later, she felt strong enough to train for the climb.
“I was doing exercises before the trip and when I went I took my knee braces because I was worried about how my right knee would do.”
Climbing Machu Picchu has long been a goal of athletes and lovers of history. Built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire, some archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for Emperor Pachacuti, while others believe it to be a sacred religious site.
Depending upon your starting point, the trail up Machu Picchu is from 27 to 35 miles, passing through stunning scenery with elevations of nearly 14,000 feet.
After arriving at its base, Rosa planned her route up Machu Picchu, knowing exactly how many miles she would hike up and back down the mountain. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In spite of the fact that her family doctor advised Rosa to take life easy, there she stood, facing her latest challenge.
While she still suffers from the occasion pang in her knee, Rosa assures us that the entire procedure went very well.
“I’m very sure that if I had a more mellow lifestyle I would be like a 15-year-old,” Rosa said. “But the reality is that I just turned 60 and it’s as good as it gets.”
It appears that Rosa’s doctor is going to have to wait a while to see his patient take it easy.
Washington resident James Sims is an avid rock hunter. Sims is such an enthusiast that he continued to pursue his hobby, even while the suffering the effects of COPD.
"The last year I went rock hunting I was so down I couldn't do anything," Sims said. "I just felt terrible, but kept passing it off as something else."
Still, Sims attempted a camping trip the following spring. "Our camping elevation was at 6,000 feet above sea level and I found it harder to breathe and was totally fatigued. I was only there one day and had to turn around and come home."
Although he chalked it up to elevation, Sims did see his doctor. After a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with emphysema, asbestos-related pleural thickening, bronchial asthma, occupational pneumoconiosis and asbestosis, and finally, with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
Of the two general practitioners and six pulmonary specialists Sims visited, all by one told him that his condition was terminal. "They said there was nothing they could do for me except try to keep me comfortable," Sims, 63, said.
Sims was puzzled by how little hope doctors offered, by the continual stories of gloom and doom. Possibly the most difficult result of his disease though, was how the diagnosis impacted him emotionally.
"It tears you up when you can't do what you want to do," Sims said. "Before that time I was so active that I wouldn't let anything stop me."
Between the time he was diagnosed in 2007 and late 2011 Sims' condition continued to deteriorate. Because his doctors offered him no hope Sims undertook his own independent research, leading him to read about stem cell therapy.
Although he says, "Everybody I talked to told me it was a scam; this is when I felt God interceded. The first person I talked to on the Internet was from the Regenerative Medicine Institute at Angeles Hospital in Mexico. She gave me the name of a lady who had brought her mother there and felt they had helped her. I contacted the daughter and found out that at one time her mother was sick enough that she had to be bathed, dressed and fed. She'd been in and out of hospitals and could do nothing for herself."
Sims describes his condition by 2011 as dismal. He knew that his condition had gotten to the point that his wife was going to have to take over the job of feeding and dressing him. "I was begging to die," Sims said bluntly. Still, he continued to make weekly calls to the daughter of the former RMI patient.
"I did not want to go through traveling to Tijuana only to find out that stem cells were not working for her anymore."
He says that he received "nothing but positive reports" each week from the family of the former patient and began to think that stem cells might be his last chance. Sims family encouraged him to take part in the RMI study. In fact, his daughters Dana Englebright and Deanna Oakley accompanied their father to Regenerative Medicine Institute, Mexico in early December. He was so sick when he left home that his wife wanted his daughters to be at his side in case he didn't make it back to Washington.
In spite of his weakened condition, Sims was surprised by the top-notch medical personnel and facilities that met him in Mexico. Each step of his treatment was explained by Dr. Jesus Perez as Sims was considered a partner in his recovery. Sims says that he has nothing but respect for Dr. Perez and how he and his family were treated.
"When I got home, the progression was rather slow for me, or maybe I was expecting too much," Sims said. "The patient I had been calling was actually in worse condition than me before she went to Mexico. They had to feed and bathe her and everything. She said that she felt the treatment the same day she had it."
Sims says that his progression was different, that it took three to four weeks for him to tell "something was happening" after he returned home.
"The biggest thing I could think about before I went down there was that I wanted to die. If something couldn't help I wanted to get death over with. Now all I could think of was that I wanted to live. I just felt, deep down, that I was going to be better."
Today, Mr. Sims need for supplemental oxygen has decreased and he's exercising on a regular basis. In fact, he says that he recently told his wife that there is something major happening because of the rate at which he is able to cut his supplemental oxygen.
"Different things have happened and I have taken the oxygen off and forgotten to put it back on," Sims said with a laugh.
While he claims to "give stem cells all the credit in the world," James Sims and his family deserve recognition for their dogged determination.
"I don't know what I would have done without my wife by my side."
Leona Sanders story is one of familial love. After their mother was diagnosed with end-stage COPD, Sanders’ children went to work to find a way to make the unthinkable happen – to reverse the damage to their mother’s diseased lungs.
69-year-old Sanders and her husband, Allen, have nine children between them. The big Texas family has a long history of taking care of one another, of not allowing one member to fall. Through shared tragedy and joy, this is a family that binds together.
Sanders was in her mid-60s when she first experienced shortness of breath. As a smoker, she recalls hearing “crackling” in her lungs from time to time, but never expected the serious diagnoses of COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Unable to provide her body with the oxygen she needed to survive, Sanders experienced an unusual case of swollen feet that quickly turned purple. It was frightening enough for Sander’s daughter, Kim, to rush her mother to the hospital.
Sanders was hospitalized for three weeks after her initial diagnosis with a CPAP machine strapped around her head. CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) delivers oxygen to patients who cannot produce enough of their own. “If I’d known how much I was going to hate that machine I would have stopped smoking much sooner,” Sanders said.
Still, she was surprised by how easy it was for her to give up cigarettes once she was diagnosed. From that point forward, it became all about survival.
Mrs. Sanders was in and out of the hospital for much of the following year. At one point, hospital bills averaged $30,000 - $50,000 a month.
“I knew I wasn’t getting any better and my doctors told me my lungs were just gone,” Mrs. Sanders said. “My kids weren’t going to go for that.”
Kim Portz, the youngest of Mrs. Sanders’ daughters, likens the experience to a scene in the movie Jaws. “Remember when they were sitting on the beach and saw the kids in the water getting eaten by the shark? That’s what it felt like. I said, ‘God, if it’s your will I’ll accept it. But if there is another way, show it to me.’”
Kim first heard about stem cells from a doctor and decided to research for herself. Her online search led to Angeles Hospital and Regenerative Medicine Institute, Mexico. Fortunately, Kim’s husband is an attorney in Houston and had an office full of capable people who are fluent in Spanish. They, in turn, were able to check with other Spanish speakers to vet the doctors at RMI and the hospital itself.
By this point, Mrs. Sanders was very ill and the family had grown desperate.
“She was in the hospital with pneumonia again, able to draw as much breath as you might get through a straw,” Kim said. “Her diagnosis was end-stage COPD. We were at the point where we needed to get her affairs in order.”
As the family considered making the trip to Tijuana, Kim called her father’s closest friend, a physician in Tucson. “He said straight up, ‘What do you have to lose?’”
Kim went back to her siblings to discuss their options before the family decided to take what she calls “a leap of faith.” The flight to San Diego that June of 2011 was harrowing, with Mrs. Sanders too weak to sit upright for the entire trip.
Mrs. Sanders and her daughter both describe Angeles Hospital as a delightful surprise. “It was very different than any other stay we had in the hospital,” Kim said. “They gave us lots of fruits and veggies and brought us both meals any time we asked for them. The meals were good, and they were good for you. The week felt like a vacation.”
Mrs. Sanders liked the fact that her daughter was also treated like a guest, with a real bed to sleep on rather than a chair or cot.
Although it was some months before Mrs. Sanders began to feel the full effects of her participation in the stem cell trial, Kim noticed immediate changes. “From the time they did her procedure it was like watching the life go back into her,” Kim said. “She played Yatzee and Sorry with me. We even left a day early to go back because I have an aunt and uncle who have a yacht in San Diego.”
One year after her procedure, Mrs. Sanders is down to two liters of oxygen and back to caring for her home and family. “I have more strength and it’s easier to get around. I just feel a lot better,” she said.
Mrs. Sanders opted to go back for a follow-up stem cell treatment this past July in hopes of getting rid of the need for supplemental oxygen altogether.
As they await the outcome of her second treatment, Sanders’ family seems happy with what they’ve seen so far. “She can get up and go to the bathroom and take baths alone again. One of the things that floors me the most is that before Mexico she couldn’t sleep lying down and they had to get her a hospital bed. Now, she can lie flat again,” Kim said.
In addition, tests have shown an improvement in Mrs. Sanders oxygen levels; a true indicator of how her body has responded.
The family has become ambassadors for those looking for quality stem cell programs. “I say something when I see people struggling,” Mrs. Sanders said. “Kimmy will talk to people in the doctor’s office and tell them about Mexico. If she sees someone on oxygen in the store, she’ll tell them.”
“Every since I witnessed this miracle with my mom, I tell everyone. I’ll chase someone down in a store if I see them on oxygen. I want to give them a choice, because they’re not going to get a choice in a doctor’s office. Once, when I asked a doctor about stem cell procedures he said, ‘Why don’t you just look at a lung transplant?’ They would rather put someone else’s lung in your body than suggest this procedure,” Kim said, still surprised at the resistance she runs into.
In fact, the family has a Facebook page called “Stem Cell Success Stories.” They hope that it can become a gathering place for those who have experienced stem cell therapy and those who want to learn more. Kim happily gives her phone number to anyone who is interested and gives them an honest account of their experiences.
“I’ve made it my mission to get the word out there,” Kim said. “If they don’t want us to do stem cells here in the United States, fine. But let’s get the word out of where people can go so they don’t get scammed.”
Kim says that the family will be happy to show Mrs. Sanders’ medical records to anyone who wants proof that stem cells work and to walk those thinking about stem cells through the procedure.
The family can be reached through their Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/stemcell.successstories
Bill and June Aikman
It is quite possible that 71 year old Bill Aikman missed his calling. The Long Island native worked as a
Certified Financial Planner, but a short conversation with him offers plenty of evidence that Mr. Aikman
could have been a comedian.
In spite of a grueling battle with COPD, Aikman is well-armed with wit, wisdom, and an appreciation for
life. Speaking from their Florida home, Bill and June Aikman shared their story.
It started out rather ambiguously, with several incidents separated by time and geography: trouble
breathing on a European vacation, a collapsed lung after golf game, and another difficult breathing
incident that led to a trip to the emergency room and a hospital stay. By the time a definitive diagnosis
came in, Mr. Aikman learned that he was suffering from COPD .
In spite of his positive attitude, Mr. Aikman's disease proved challenging. There was a period of
coughing up blood for weeks, rounds of antibiotics, MRSA infections, and on his 70 th birthday, another
collapsed lung. Bill decided to become a candidate for a lung transplant and was accepted into the
At the same time, he began to look at alternative treatments. It was a seminar at their local library that
got Mr. and Mrs. Aikman interested in stem cell therapy. The first program they investigated involved
having Mr. Aikman's blood withdrawn in Florida, sent to Israel, then on to the Dominican Republic
where Aikman would have treatment.
"It cost $60,000 and there was no guarantee that I could play shortstop when I left the Dominican
Republic," he said with a laugh.
Still, the Aikmans were not dissuaded. In fact, they may have been more open to alternative treatment
than some. "Part of where this comes from is the fact that we had a chiropractor in New York who was
getting up in age. He used to tell us stories about being thrown in jail in the 1930s for practicing."
As Mr. Aikman said, "The powers that be have all these laws." He knew that he didn't want to wait for
the government to catch up while his medical condition continued to decline.
"If I'd had the lung transplant done I might have lived three more years and Medicare and my insurance
might have spent as much as a million bucks on the procedure and medication."
The couple – who have been together since they were 15 years old – were in perfect sync as to what
they wanted to do. They talked to Bill's doctor and presented him with three of the many programs
they had researched: a local, non-comprehensive program, the program they first learned about at the
seminar, and Regenerative Medicine Institute in Mexico. The doctor agreed with their decision to travel
to Tijuana for treatment. He told them that while RMI's program would cause Bill no harm, it would
cost $20,000 to try.
"Okay. We'll stop in Vegas on the way home," said Bill.
Without missing a beat, the doctor replied, "Double down on black."
On January 23, 2012 Bill and June Aikman traveled to the Regenerative Medicine Institute, Mexico for treatment. According to the couple, the staff was welcoming and efficient and they were impressed by the quality that met them at Hospital Angeles. Also impressive was the completeness of the records sent to RMI by Bill Aikman’s doctor at home.
The doctor did his patient a huge favor says Dr. Javier Lopez, CEO of RMI. “Coordinating with the patient’s primary doctor or specialist helps us focus on patient safety. Even though the medical staff at RMI looks at every piece of medical data put in front of us, there’s nothing like working with the professionals who have been treating a patient at home.”
According to June, she was quite comfortable at Hospital Angeles while her husband was cared for. “We had two rooms next to each other for the night,” she said. “While he was being treated I did yoga in my room for an hour and had coffee at the on site coffee shop.”
The only thing the couple says they would change about the trip would be to build in extra days in San Diego before and after treatment. The long trip from Florida, complete with delays, was simply too tiring. They also believe that time to relax near the beach after treatment would have been a good way for Mr. Aikman to begin his recovery.
The Aikmans life has taken on a new rhythm since January. For one thing, they’re going to the gym every morning for nearly two hours. “I don’t think he could have done that before stem cells,” Mrs. Aikman said.
While the long trip to and from Mexico wore him out, Bill Aikman said, “After about two weeks home what I found out was that I had an unbelievable amount of energy compared to what I had before. I’m not sure how that worked.”
When that energy began to flag a bit, he added B-12 to his vitamin regime and says that the energy boost is “huge” compared to two or three years ago. “I can do 20 minutes on the treadmill and for someone with Stage 4 COPD, I know I couldn’t do that before.”
Between the cardio work and lifting weights, Mr. Aikman feels more like himself. “Last night I brought my grandson and his girlfriend up to the club house to get dinner. Six months ago there was no way I would get up at 5:30, work out for two hours, then go out at night with them. The quality of my life has increased.”
There is still oxygen to contend with, although Aikman’s ultimate goal would be to live without the machine supplementing his needs. Maybe it’s the optimist in him, but he’s already on his way. “Sometimes, when I’m watching television, I forget I need it and don’t put it on.”
The Aikmans say that the bottom line comes down to this one question: Knowing what they know now, would the couple spend $20,000 for stem cell treatment again?
According to both Bill and June, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
PATIENT OF THE MONTH
Michel Thibault’s story is not an easy one tell – mostly because all of the parts cannot be wrapped up into one tidy little bow. While it would be amazing to find a medical treatment that cures every condition, gives a lifetime guarantee of perfect health, it’s simply not the reality.
No single treatment can cure all ills. Outcomes are determined by a myriad of factors, including the condition of the patient’s body upon entering a stem cell trial. And that is the backbone of the Michel Thibault story.
Michel Thibault is a serious athlete who nourishes his body in a sensible way, stays away from tobacco, and only drinks on occasion. He’s not the kind of guy anyone would expect to develop heart disease. Still, that was precisely the diagnosis Thibault received after fighting a cold that he describes as never ending.
Thibault was only 31-years-old at the time.
Within days, Thibault was on a heart transplant list. “It was kind of unreal,” he said from his home in Canada. “I remember being depressed about it, but I got treatment and was able to deal with it.”
Not only was the young man dealing with a shocking diagnosis, but as an A-Type, he was also busy running his own company. Although at one point he had stabilized enough to be removed from the transplant list, by early winter 2011 he felt his body weaken. Tasks that had once come easily now felt like a chore.
“I had a problem walking and knew I was about to die.”
It was doctors in Canada who first mentioned stem cell therapy to Thibault. He says now that
doctors were hesitant to say “too” much because stem cell therapies are not approved in Canada. Still, doctors wanted him to know that he had an option.
He began to research in earnest, looking for a safe place to receive his own stem cells. It was a daunting task as Thibault questioned how much he could truly know about a hospital or doctor based upon a web site or advertisement.
“I had to do something. My ejection fraction was 10 percent.”
An ejection fraction measures the volume of blood that is being pumped by your heart, to tell how well your heart is working. A normal heart measures around 50-60 percent.
“Most people at 10 percent are sleeping most of the day and in a wheelchair. You’re alive and breathing and your brain is function, but even just walking is a problem. I didn’t want to get into a wheelchair at 37 or 38,” Thibault said.
He traveled to the Regenerative Medicine Institute, Mexico in September 2011.
Thibault admits that even as he flew into San Diego and was driven to Tijuana, he was unsure that RMI was legitimate. He calls his actions “a leap of faith.”
His initial fears gave way to pleasant surprise. “The treatment was perfect at the hospital,” he said. Not only was RMI running a legitimate stem cell trial, but they operated out of a world-class hospital and employed some of the finest medical specialist in the business.
Thibault says that very early on he felt “different.” Before flying home to Canada he even felt strong enough to go out with friends for the evening in San Diego. Within days, he began a new job.
“I took a break from exercise for three months, but I felt a big change in my own body. I started going back to the gym again. As I exercised, my condition got better.”
He’s only been tested once since returning to Canada. Though the technician who tested him told him that his formerly enlarged heart had slightly decreased in size, his ejection fraction numbers remained essentially the same as prior to the procedure.
Thibault believes that the test results could have a number of explanations, ranging from the time that elapsed between his stem cell trial and the first follow-up test, to whether the technician was being conservative in his rating. He hasn’t lost hope, believing that it’s possible that his next ejection fraction numbers may be better.
“If I were a retiree, all of this would be easier. But I’m young, ambitious, and work in a competitive environment. If what I’ve read in some studies is true, and the heart can continue to heal for years after treatment, I’ll be happy,” Thibault said.
Asked if he would try stem cells again, Thibault does not hesitate. “I would because I know there’s a lot of success with that kind of treatment.
PATIENT OF THE MONTH
Dolores “Pat” Bland
If your mental picture of a great-grandmother is not a dynamo on the tennis court, Dolores “Pat” Bland might just shatter your previously held image. Pat so loves the game of tennis that she’s been known to say, “Someday I’m going to die on the tennis court, ending with a fantastic shot.”
It was last year when Pat noticed that her game was suffering. “I started coughing,” she said. “I could get along, but I was doing things like bouncing the ball a little longer when I was getting ready to serve.”
She stubbornly stuck to an intense playing schedule until Pulmonary Fibrosis became so tenacious she was unable to ignore it. “Last April I played four days in a row and on the fourth day I thought I might not make it back to my car.
Pat’s doctor insisted that he told her back in 2008 that she had Pulmonary Fibrosis – sometimes described as scarring of the lung. Pat laughs as she recalls her conversation with the doctor and the realization that she probably hadn’t heard him when he first diagnosed the problem.
The idea of pursuing stem cell treatment to fight the disease was first broached by Pat’s son. “He research Hospital Angeles and thought I should do it,” she said.
Pat -- who spends half of the year in Washington State and the other half in Ventura County, California -- traveled across the border with her husband, Duane, for the procedure on February 9, 2012. She says that it took them 15 minutes to get from the border to Hospital Angeles.
“I found it to be a positive experience. The hospital was beautiful, the doctors were wonderful, and the nurses were precious and sweet. It might as well have been a resort.”
Once she got back home Pat says that her oxygen level increased from 85 percent to 92 percent in one month. In addition to the staff at RMI, she credits her U.S. physician, Dr. Miguel Gonzales, with supporting her decision to travel to Mexico for treatment. “He’s an up-to-the-minute doctor,” she explained. “He treats me in ways that fit my needs.”
These days, Pat is the most popular person in her church. The same people who prayed for her throughout her treatment now want to know everything she can tell them about stem cells. She even discovered that the 55-year-old mother of a girl from her church has also undergone stem cell treatment and is doing well two years out.
“God planned our bodies to heal themselves, but sometimes we get in the way of natural healing.”
Today, Pat is back to being able to climb stairs without stopping to cough, she’s enjoying her family, and recently had no problem keeping up with friends visiting from Washington State.
Now, it’s just a matter of becoming strong enough to get back out on the court. “Tennis is very important,” she said. “I can live without it, but I don’t want to.”
PATIENT OF THE MONTH
As the first person to participate in stem cells trials at Regenerative Medicine Institute, Mexico, Lynn Munson is a pioneer of sorts, although to hear her tell it, she was just a lady looking to get her life back. Speaking from her home on the Kansas-Oklahoma border, Lynn clearly recalls the daily struggle she once faced with COPD.
“I had a good friend who was a doctor here in town,” Lynn said. “I was always going in to see him with pneumonia or bronchitis. I couldn’t be around people much because I had a very low immune system. I was sick, but wasn’t thinking it was COPD.”
The eventual COPD diagnosis led Munson and her husband, Jim, to learn everything they could about the disease. The information available was sobering. 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, 14 million who suffer from chronic bronchitis and two million from emphysema. COPD is a progressive disease and is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.
“It progressively got worse. I couldn’t walk and talk at the same time. Two years before I had the procedure I couldn’t do anything. If I did go to a friend’s house I couldn’t talk very well, so I decided that I wasn’t going to go out anymore.”
The rapid decline in Lynn’s health changed the couple’s life. Once actively involved with a tight-knit group of friends, Lynn found herself encouraging her husband to go out and enjoy himself without her. Jim Munson was much more interested in making his wife comfortable. He sold his business and stayed home to take care of her.
Lynn found herself feeling guilty for the loss of their social life and for the fact that she needed Jim to help with everyday tasks like housekeeping.
It was by chance that Jim first heard of stem cell trials for COPD. Lynn says that her husband was on an annual golf trip with friends when someone told him about another acquaintance who had been treated with stem cells. Jim thought it was worth looking into.
By then, Lynn’s life was a shadow of what it had once been. “I couldn’t believe it would help. Going to Tijuana was a last-ditch effort. I told my husband that I wanted to die at home, not in some airport. He encouraged me, promised to get me where I needed to be quickly.”
In late 2009 the couple traveled to Tijuana for treatment. They didn’t know what to expect, but they knew they needed a miracle.
“Before we left I had asked my doctor to be honest with me about my condition. He told me I was designated near death,” Lynn recalled.
Armed with all the information they could gather and a great deal of anticipation, they arrived at Hospital Angeles ready to take their best shot at recovered health.
About 48 hours after her own stem cells were reintroduced into her body, Lynn says that she felt more alert and started to feel hope that something was happening within her ravaged lungs. It was an episode that took place on the way home that left Lynn embarrassed, but pleasantly surprised.
“Just before we got on the plane to come home I started coughing. I didn’t want to make anyone around me nervous, but I noticed that the more I coughed, the more my lungs started working again.”
Although she recalls being self-conscious, Lynn says that the very fact that her lungs were now strong enough to help her cough up mucus was a sign that they were beginning to work properly.
The staff in the doctor’s office in Kansas were amazed. “When I came back I was able to walk into the clinic,” Lynn said. “The nurse was going down the hall saying, ‘Lynn’s walking! Lynn’s walking!’”
While she still uses her wheelchair on occasion, Lynn says that life is pretty much back to where she hoped it would be. She’s enjoying her five grandchildren and once again takes pleasure in hobbies, like jewelry making.
“I don’t think about being the first one at Regenerative Medicine. I’m just so thankful for the way I feel and the way I can breathe.”
Fortunately, Farina’s surgery went well and he was able to return to life as normal. As a pharmacist, owner of a clinical compounding pharmacy, consultant and real estate agent, Farina is a busy man. He really doesn’t have time to be sick.
He went back to the business of living and his health held steady for 12 years before Farina suffered another heart attack. Just as he’d taken prompt action after the first heart attack, Farina went to work discovering what his alternatives were. One of the options he explored was stem cell therapy for the treatment of heart disease. He learned that programs were available in Israel, Korea and West Germany, but it was a physician friend who first suggested he look into Regenerative Medicine Institute in Mexico.
“He had a patient who had gone to Mexico for treatment,” Farina said. “That patient did so well that my friend told me about it.”
Farina and the friend travelled to Tijuana where he checked into Hospital Angeles for treatment. As a physician who formerly taught emergency medicine at Loma Linda Medical School, Farina’s friend was especially interested in the procedure and its outcome.
Mort Farina describes the procedure as though it was a simple trip to the doctor’s office, rather than an attempt to heal his heart.
“We went down on a Sunday night. They did the liposuction the same night and injected stem cells directly into 27 different areas of my heart, using a catheter through the groin.”
Next, doctors took the large numbers of stem cells that were left over and gave them to Farina in an IV drip. By the next day, Farina and his friend drove home.
Asked about his experience at Hospital Angeles, Farina was direct. “I am a fanatic about hospitals. This is a Class A facility.”
Months later, Farina is back at full-throttle, consulting with other pharmacists, teaching, selling real estate, and absorbing knowledge about everything that interests him.
Like many little girls, Milana grew up fantasizing of life on the stage. She dreamed of being one of the Radio City Hall Rockettes. What she never dreamed would happen was COPD, a disease that would so debilitate her that she would be unable to walk a flight of stairs without stopping for a rest, or to complete an entire sentence without trying to catch her breath.
COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a term used to describe a condition that makes it difficult for patients to breathe normally. While it may start off as a simple cough, COPD gets worse slowly over time.
Speaking from her northern Ohio home, Milana explained, “When I first got sick I had pneumonia, but I really didn’t do anything about it. A couple of months later, I got pneumonia again.”
By the time Milana asked her husband to take her to the hospital she was too weak to walk. She spent 10 days in the hospital, six of which she has no memory of.
“Everything was taken away at once,” Milana said. “I went home on two liters of oxygen, thinking it would treat my lungs and I’d be well.”
The memory of hearing the harsh truth is tattooed in Milana’s mind. It was about 18 months later and Milana was at the Cleveland Clinic for a checkup.
“I asked the doctor when I could get off the oxygen. She told me, ‘You’re not going to get off that oxygen. You need a lung transplant.’”
Milana described the moment she and her husband heard those words.
Don Plucinski asked the doctor the question that was on both of their minds. What would happen if Milana didn’t have a lung transplant? The doctor matter-of-factly told the couple that she did not expect Milana to make it two years.
Milana and Don cried on their way home from the clinic, disbelief mixed with despair. Although she initially refused to be put on a lung transplant waiting list, Milana eventually relented.
“I was horrified because I wasn’t expecting that,” Milana said. “I was thinking, I don’t want to die. I have two daughters, a son, and my husband. I have things I want to do. I don’t want to die in two years.”
Milana traveled to the Cleveland Clinic every three months for lab tests. She took advantage of pulmonary rehabilitation, but her condition continued to deteriorate. She and Don worried about leaving home, knowing that if the clinic called with a lung, they would need to be within two hours of the hospital.
She also became discouraged with the idea of life as a lung-transplant patient.
“I didn’t like the five-year survival statistics after a lung transplant. I didn’t like the constant restrictions I would have like always having to wear a mask and dietary restrictions.”
The Cleveland Clinic called twice with news that they had found a suitable lung. Both times, Milana was too ill with upper-respiratory infections to undergo the transplant.
“I looked at my husband and said, ‘This is an omen.’ Something was telling me not to do this.”
By mid-2011, Milana was at the end of her rope. She had a family she wanted more time with and two young grandchildren that she desperately wanted to watch grow. Worried about her mother, Milana’s daughter, Joanna Blondeau, began to send her medical research.
Milana explained, “One night she sent me information about stem cells. I got to reading one thing after another and pretty soon it was four in the morning. I ran across information about Hospital Angeles.
“My husband got up at 7:30 for work and I was still on the computer. He asked if I’d been up all night and what was going on. I told him, ‘Yep. I’m going to Mexico.’”
By midday, Milana had done more research on the Regenerative Medicine Institute, Mexico. She knew that their board-certified specialists had experience harvesting adult stem cells and transplanting them into very ill patients.
When her husband called from work, Milana was armed with information. He encouraged her to pursue her research. It was Dr. Jesus Perez at Regenerative Medicine Institute who explained the procedure to her, including that fact that because she would be receiving her own stem cells, her body would not reject them.
The more she learned, the more excited she became.
“I said to my husband, ‘I don’t know about you, but I think I’m worth $20,000.’”
Don Plucinski agreed and in late July, the two headed to San Diego. They were picked up and driven across the border to Hospital Angeles Tijuana.
“I was floored by how beautiful it was,” Milana said. “They greeted us right at the door.”
Unable to walk the distance down the hall, Milana was pushed in a wheelchair to her room.
“We had the most beautiful suite. My husband could stay with me and they brought our meals in to us. The nurses were so attentive, I got to thinking they were hanging out outside the door,” Milana said with a laugh.
Milana may have been surprised by the quality of the hospital and its staff, but she was especially touched by Dr. Perez. This man she merely knew by reputation and had only spoken with by phone sat with Milana and Don and talked for three hours.
While Milana’s personality still shone through, Dr. Perez could easily assess her condition.
“She wasn’t doing so well,” Perez said. “She was completely oxygen dependent at a high concentration. She had trouble getting around and had to stop often to catch her breath. She couldn’t speak for long periods without stopping. It was hard to watch because she was obviously frustrated with not being able to do what she did before.”
Milana didn’t mind the battery of test that was run on her that first day. She was beginning to feel hope, to become confident that this stem cell transplant might help.
The following day, a board certified plastic surgeon performed liposuction to remove ½ cup of belly fat from Milana. It was from that fat that 144 million stem cells were harvested.
“About 90 minutes later they were hanging the IV bag with the stem cells right in my room. We were watching TV. It couldn’t have been any more relaxing. They brought me a nice tray with Jell-O and snacks.”
Milana remembers it taking around three hours for the stem cells to make their way from the IV bag into her body. She was released from the hospital the next day, under instructions to take it easy.
That, for Milana Plucinski, was easier said than done. A friend and her husband were flying in from Arizona to meet Milana and Don for dinner in San Diego and Milana says that she had an incredible rush of energy.
“I don’t know if it was mental or not, but I hadn’t felt that way in four years,” Milana said.
Six weeks later, Milana says she’s still waiting for the “crash.” Back in their Ohio home, Milana’s husband asks why she won’t stop working around the house. She tells him it’s because she finally can.
One week after the transplant, Milana was able to reduce her oxygen from six liters a day to five. At two weeks, she was down to four liters. Three weeks after the transplant, Milana’s family doctor was surprised by how much air she was getting into her lungs.
Dr. Perez says that it generally takes three months for a patient to achieve the full benefit of stem cell treatment. Milana is excited to see where she’s at when that 90 day mark hits.
“I forget that I’m not completely well,” she said.
Milana’s children are astounded by the change in their mother’s condition. While her son Tony was initially worried about his mother travelling to Tijuana for treatment, he’s changed his mind.
“He’s shaking his head now, saying this is incredible,” Milana reported.
Perhaps, though, the greatest compliment of all came from Milana’s daughter.
“My youngest daughter, Valerie, said it best,” Milana said. “She used to say that I had lost my sparkle. Now, she says, ‘Mom, your sparkle is back.’”