Jerry Nelson: Stem cells
From a medical point of view, we’re fortunate to be born where and when we are.
For example, it’s so much easier to take a tablet for a headache than to try to rid yourself of the “bad” blood that’s causing your discomfort by sticking your arm into a vat full of leeches.
Very few of us attain middle age without some aches and pains. My wife is no exception. A couple of years ago when her back pain became unbearable, she underwent surgery to stabilize things. Her back is now pain-free, although she has the equivalent of a small hardware store in her spine.
My wife has had knee pain for quite a while. We consulted with an orthopedic surgeon some months ago and he confirmed that her left knee is, medically speaking, “shot.” Sadly, the factory warranty had long since expired.
The surgeon recommended – surprise! – joint replacement surgery. But before he could reach for his Sawzall, my wife asked about the possibility of using stem cell therapy to fix her knee.
We were referred to Dr. Herman, who has a good deal of experience with stem cell therapy. Dr. Herman is charming and outgoing. We liked her all the more when we learned that both her parents were veterinarians who also raised beef cattle. It was comforting to swap “war stories” regarding baby calf care.
Dr. Herman explained how their FDA-approved stem cell therapy works. First, marrow is obtained from the patient’s bones. Stem cells are separated from the marrow and checked for contamination. The quality and the quantity of the stem cells is also measured. After these steps are completed, the stem cells are injected into the affected joint.
This would not result in an overnight cure; it could be months before my wife notices much of a difference. But there would also be an extended recovery period if her knee were cut apart and new machinery installed.
Since stem cell therapy is still deemed experimental, our insurance company wouldn’t cover it. Fortunately, my wife had a little something set aside. Her money, her knee, her choice.
Dr. Herman began the procedure by using ultrasound to locate the best spots to drill and marking them with a sharpie. Then, using techniques perfected by the petroleum industry, she bored into the iliac crest of my wife’s pelvic bone and extracted a quantity of marrow.
You should not watch YouTube videos of this procedure if you have a weak stomach or become faint at the sight of blood.
My wife isn’t one of those people. Not only had she watched YouTube videos, she also asked Dr. Herman if she could see the results of her extraction efforts. Helping care for the cows and the calves on our dairy farm had inured my wife to viewing the sort of things that might cause others to develop an extreme case of the willies. My wife said it was interesting to see all those tubes filled with that oxblood-colored substance. It didn’t bother her in the least that it had just been harvested from her own personal skeleton.
We waited for a couple of hours while the stem cells were separated and given a thorough checkup. Finally, the surgical nurse came in and informed us that all was ready.
My wife followed the nurse out of our recovery room but returned just minutes later. I assumed that something had gone awry. The opposite was true. Things had gone so swimmingly that the stem cell infusion had required only a brief visit to the operating room.
Dr. Herman said that my wife’s marrow had produced a large quantity of stem cells and that they were also of high quality. This tendency toward overachievement must be due to my wife’s German heritage.
Once the procedure was over, we simply drove home with two industrial Band-Aids on my wife’s back and a small one on her knee. The whole experience had been pretty much pain-free. My wife hadn’t suffered much either, although the next day she reported that her lower back felt like it had been slugged by a baseball bat. One might expect as much after a close encounter with a drilling rig.
Now we wait and hope that her stem cells go to work with that same German propensity for industriousness and overachievement.
My wife chose this option not just to avoid surgery. She also hopes to help advance the field of stem cell therapy and make life better for others.
And maybe someday the medical field will discover a treatment that can help middle aged people remember where they left their keys.
If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at email@example.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.