Former Springbok rugby player Joost van der Westhuizen has undergone Repair Stem Cell treatment for a fatal motor neuron disease (MND).
Van der Westhuizen's neurologist Dr Jody Pearl says that the treatment was safe, but there was no guarantee it would have any real benefit.
"We don't know if we'll be able to help with the MND...(the) therapy is the most promising treatment we have to date in any kind of degenerative condition," she said.
"But I think we need to be cautiously optimistic."
Van der Westhuizen, 40, said he would continue to fight the disease, for which there is no known cure.
"I've been a fighter all my life," Van der Westhuizen told The Times daily.
"I'm going to fight this thing mentally and to the best of my ability.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to die on you too soon. I'm going to fight it."
Van der Westhuizen reportedly became the first South African to undergo the treatment, developed by United Kingdom neuroscientist Dr Steve Ray, two weeks ago.
Doctors injected some of his stem cells back into his body, with the hope that the cells would repair damaged muscle tissue.
Van der Westhuizen, who first realised there was something wrong with his right arm late last year, was diagnosed in July.
He played in South Africa's victorious 1995 Rugby World Cup team and at one stage held the record as the most capped Springbok player.
By: Priyanka Vora
Muscular dystrophy-afflicted child is responding to stem cell therapy, which is emerging as the most popular treatment for rare and fatal genetic disorders.
Meet Harshu Singh. This wheelchair-bound, frail eight-year-old cannot play or enjoy classes at school. Denying him these small childhood pleasures is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disorder that weakens muscles of children, ultimately making them wheelchair dependent even before they cross the age of 10. But shining a faint ray of hope into his bleak condition is stem cell therapy, which is fast becoming the most popular treatment for diseases involving muscular dystrophy.
New lease of life: Harshu Singh
Harshu was diagnosed with DMD at the tender age of three, when he started finding it difficult to walk, or even change sides in bed. "Harshu's mother Sujata said, "It is a genetic disorder, and even my brother's kids have been diagnosed with it. Everywhere we went, the doctors insisted there is no cure for this fatal disorder. One day, I read about a miraculous recovery of a boy the same age as Harshu, who was suffering from DMD. I discovered that stem cell therapy was the only cure, and decided to opt for it."
Harshu has already undergone five sessions of stem cell therapy, wherein doctors have injected stem cells of heterologous origin into his blood stream. "We first obtain stem cells from the umbilical cord of a new born infant in the lab, after which they are injected intravenously. In Harshu's case, the muscle degeneration appears to have stopped, and he has regained some movement in his hand and leg. These are clear signs of improvement," said Dr B S Rajput, consultant stem cell transplant surgeon, Criti Care hospital.
Adding that he has used stem cell therapy for over 100 patients suffering from various forms of muscular dystrophy, Rajput said, "This disorder has no documented treatment, but stem cell therapy has shown a ray of hope. We have noticed substantial improvement in a large majority of cases. The administration of mesenchymal stem cells has helped in the short term. Doctors are trying to gauge its efficacy in long-term treatment as well."
Did you know?
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a congenital neuromuscular disorder that occurs in approximately 1 out of every 3,600 male infants, who are more prone to it than female infants. Patients usually live till the age of 25.
One of the Toughest:
Ava starts her journey towards a more normal life.
Two-year-old Ava McCulloch has a reason to smile - she's starting to feel better.
Ava was born with Spina Bifida, a neurological disorder that makes it difficult for her to walk.
"It affects nerves in the body below that point where her spinal cord was sticking out at birth, so there's some nerve damage that was done," said Ava's mother Jessica.
After doing some online research, Jessica discovered a procedure that could change her daughter's life - stem cell treatment. The procedure isn't available in the United States, so the McCulloch family took a trip around the world to China.
"They use these stem cells, which came from healthy Chinese babies, and they put them in by IV into her feet," said Jessica.
The doctors use stem cells from umbilical cords instead of embryos. Jessica said she was told not to expect any results right away - but that's exactly what happened.
"We started the treatment and the therapy, and after about the third stem cell treatment and the seventh day of acupuncture, she started crying," said Jessica.
Those tears meant that Ava was able to sense the pain for the first time. Jessica said her daughter is one step closer to walking without ankle braces.
"Now that we have seen things happen, which this isn't the end of it, more progress is suppose to come months down the road, and it's very exciting," said Jessica.
Jessica said that Ava will need to continue her therapy, and the family is trying to return to China within the next year for another procedure. Until then, Ava's smile is all the encouragement they need.
ST. THOMAS - Jackson Vandermark is like a lot of kids his age. He loves trucks, eating and being outdoors. The young St. Thomas resident, however, is unique in that he's now one year removed from a brain operation his family had to travel thousands of kilometres to see done.
Almost a year to the day since St. Thomas and Elgin community members sponsored the Vandermark family's trip to Dusseldorf, Germany for a complex, stem cell procedure for their son to help treat his cerebral palsy, the seven-year-old's mother reports he is more articulate and active than ever.
"His speech has definitely improved, adding from just a one-word sentence to two or three sentences put together .... We never used to have to watch what we said around Jackson, we could say whatever we wanted with no fears of him repeating it but he repeats everything now," Jackson's mother, Carrie Pasch, told the Times-Journal in an interview in their St. Thomas home.
"His core strength has definitely strengthened as well... (and), oh God, does he have a memory. Let's say his grandpa was going to pick him up tomorrow and take him to a boat show. Well, we wouldn't tell him right now becuase he would be up at three in the morning getting ready to go."
Last August, Jackson, diagnosed with the brain affliction when he was an infant, travelled with Pasch, his father, Greg Vandermark, and brother, Cooper, 3, overseas for an operation neither offered in Canada nor covered by OHIP.
The process involved two separate surgeries. The first pulled bone marrow from his hip and the resulting stem cells were then implanted near his brain stem with hopes that they would attach, replace and repair damaged cells.
The family raised about $40,000 with about $35,000 going towards paying for the procedure and the rest used for travel expenses.
Pasch recalls the hardest part for Jackson was dealing with the needle doctors used to inject anesthetic.
"I went in (the operating room) while they put him to sleep and the prick scared him, hurt him. So he started to cry and he looked right at me he goes, 'mom, home.' It broke my heart...but he instantly fell asleep so he wasn't laying there for a long time crying and stuff. He said that and his eyes fluttered and he was right out."
But that was far from the only time Pasch says the whole ordeal affected her heart.
After the second procedure, Pasch became alarmed when Jackson was nauseous and constipated for two days following the brain operation.
"When he was sick and vomitting those two days after the procedure, to be honest, I was doubting myself. Like, what have we done...what if this isn't what we were supposed to do? It was one of the scariest times of my life," she said.
"You know Jackson's sick when he doesn't want to eat. So that's how we know when he's really not feeling well."
However, Jackson began improving after those two days and Pasch says his recovery was an immense weight off the entire family's shoulders.
"We had faith that he was going to be fine. So, I mean, you're scared but you can't think the worst is going to happen .... (After those two days,) then we could enjoy our time, as soon as he felt better," she adds.
The trip was extremely exciting for Jackson in more ways than one.
Aside from the major surgery, it was his first time on an airplane.
Pasch says that his affinity for loud motors made the booming plane engine something he thoroughly enjoyed and that he and Cooper were less nervous about the long flight than she was.
The trip also gave the family a chance to reconnect with Jackson's great aunt and uncle and grandparents on his father's side who live in Holland.
Come September, Jackson is going into Grade 2 at John Wise P.S. The young man has a smile that's as wide as it is bright and he doesn't hesitate to show it off. Ask him what his favourite part about school is -- which he refers to as work -- and he'll flash the grin and tell you it's eating.
A year after the fact, Pasch says Jackson is doing great. She says she wants to thank all the people who made the trip possible and let them know that she appreciates the time, effort and money they put in.
She also credits hospital staff at Dusseldorf's XCell-Center for being so adept and the friends she met during her time in Germany for helping make things go as smoothly as they could. One family in particular, she adds, made the second procedure go by much quicker.
"When Jackson was in the (second) procedure, this one family from the states there talked with us about Jackson. It probably would have been one of the longest half an hours of our lives (otherwise)," she said.
A full list of people and groups Pasch wants to thank can be found at www.stthomastimesjournal.com in the online edition of the article.
One year after the family travelled over 6,000 kilometres for the major surgery, Pasch adds it was all worthwhile.
"It definitely was worth it because I have no idea, if we hadn't taken him, if he would have been adding those words together or if his balance would have been better, or his core strength would have been better....We'll knever know but it definitely was worth it because, I mean, we'll try anything for him," she said.
"Words can not explain how thankful we are to everyone."
A survey of recent headlines about medical treatment received by Governor and potential presidential-hopeful Rick Perry of Texas could easily lead one to believe that he is a Texas-sized hypocrite when it comes to his opposition to human embryonic stem cell research. Once again, the mainstream media has things seriously wrong.
A Google search turns up articles with misleading titles, such as: “Stem Cell Critic Receives Stem Cell Therapy,” “Rick Perry has Stem Cell Procedure, Then Works to Bring it to Texas,” “Gov. Rick Perry Underwent Stem Cell therapy,” and “Report: Rick Perry Had Experimental Stem Cell Therapy.”
While there are a few exceptions, most of articles that address Gov. Perry’s treatment include titles that could easily lead one to believe that he accepted a treatment for his own medical condition that he has historically opposed for the treatment of others.
Of course, if you have the patience to read most of the articles carefully, you will see that the authors are forced to acknowledge that Gov. Perry’s treatment did not use stem cells taken from destroyed human embryos, and thus, he is not a “hypocrite” for opposing treatments that are based upon the use of such stem cells. In fact, it is the right position to take: opposing unethical research, while supporting ethical alternatives. Human embryonic stem cell research is morally wrong because it is rooted in the destruction of a human being; but other kinds of stem cell research, not involving the taking of a human being’s life, are not immoral.
Still, suspicious and judgmental reporting regarding Gov. Perry’s treatment
—and adult stem cell treatments in general—is typical of the mainstream media, seemingly bent upon advancing embryo-destructive stem cell research while downplaying the dramatic successes achieved through adult stem cell research. The media often seem blind to the simple (but clear) ethical differences.
Perhaps the most baffling and disingenuous aspect of the articles, however, is their (mis)characterization of adult stem cell research. For example, one article states that “the use of adult stem cells has not been proven to be effective.” Another quotes unnamed “researchers” who say that “they’ve seen nothing more definitive than the so-called ‘placebo effect’” from adult stem cell research.
In reality, treatments developed from adult stem cells are being used every day to treat once incurable diseases and serious injuries. Scientists have been able to help patients suffering from over 70 different diseases and injuries—including brain cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, Crohn’s disease, lupus, heart damage, Parkinson’s disease, Sickle cell anemia, and end-stage bladder disease—using adult stem cells. It is deeply disappointing that the media continues to treat these life-affirming advances as insignificant, while chasing what may well be a pipe dream that life-destroying embryonic stem cell research will one day yield dramatic results.