Part I: Harvesting

Almost a month has passed, and I still think it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I have no regrets, but it definitely is not for the faint of heart. Although I’d asked all the right questions, the experience of having my adipose stem cells harvested from my abdomen was not quite what I expected. The doctor was excellent, but it was still overwhelming and incredibly intense. As I watched him lower the scalpel, I thought “What am I doing? This is insane”.

Yes, you have it right. I was awake during the procedure. I could see the surgeon and the nurse the whole time. I could see the different equipment and instruments being used. While on the surgical table, I felt the prick of the needle on each side of my abdomen. The initial incisions were made, and more local anesthetic was pumped in. After waiting for the anesthetic to take effect special instruments were used to collect the stem cells.

It sounds simple enough, but what does this really mean? Exactly what happens?

I will tell you. Surgical instruments are inserted between the skin and muscle along the width of the abdomen via the small incision sites. Anesthetic fluid is pumped in slowly to help numb the area inside and separate the skin from the muscle and fat. More instruments are used to suck out the tissue, which contains the valuable stem cells. Occasionally there was a little bit of pain, as the cannulas hit a sensitive area. Imagine poking a small hole in a cantaloupe, and then scraping out some of the fruit without disrupting the seeds, over and over. Adipose stem cell harvesting is like that. It feels like that.

I have been a thin person almost all of my life. It felt unpleasant, this scraping. It was a sensation unlike anything else. On a person with more body fat the sensation might be different or less pronounced. After an hour it was finally over. I was relieved to be done, since I’d reached my limit mentally and emotionally. The surgeon had done his best to collect as much as possible, considering I didn’t have a lot to work with. My life-saving stem cells were whisked off to the lab.

A few stitches on each side, gauze, bandages, and a compression bandage around my abdomen. The hard part was done. I got up after a few minutes, and joined my mother in the waiting room, while my stem cells were being prepared for re-entry. I was exhausted and mentally wiped out. I wasn’t in any pain, and it would take many hours for the numbness to dissipate.

"All done."

“All done.”

Now what? I’d made other requests before deciding to fly to Florida for this vital stem cell treatment. Would they be fulfilled?


On The Cutting Edge

The ending of a relationship, moving, financial struggles, and the death of a loved one.  All of these are known as some of the most difficult and stressful events that a person can go through.  Over the last five months I’ve had all of them happen to me.  Needless to say, blogging wasn’t at the top of my priority list. 

Stress takes a more pronounced toll on my body, because of the ongoing challenges of being a dialysis patient.  Sleep eluded me for months.  Torturous stabbing stomach pains woke me nightly.  My broken heart ached and wept.  I lost my appetite, and with it weight that I shouldn’t .  A strained knee, and sore muscles from moving furniture and locations twice in less than thirty days, had me limping.

It’s taken me some time to recover, and stabilize.

There were some rays of light and hope as well.  In early June I was invited to meet with the CEO of a stem cell research company in California.  I also was privileged to tour the company’s research lab, meet their very nice staff, and get a look at some amazing equipment.  I was deeply moved to learn that I am influencing stem cell research by being so open about the details of my experience with kidney failure, receiving an adult peripheral blood stem cell treatment, and my subsequent improvements.  The CEO’s expertise in stem cell research motivated me to pursue another treatment, and his kind donation added to the funds I’ve been setting aside for it.

The highlight of my summer was being able to reduce my dialysis to two and a half hours twice per week.  My doctors and the dialysis staff were anticipating that the reduction would be short-lived.  They were wrong.  The stem cell treatment has certainly delivered the results it had promised:  Less dialysis time and improved kidney function.  This is a BIG DEAL! I’ve eliminated a day, and reclaimed my weekends!  I now am down to half the amount of dialysis time compared with before my stem cell treatment.

Regularly I get asked for numbers and facts, so here are a few.  Prior to the stem cell treatment I had dialysis three hours, three times per week.  My BUN was usually in the 80’s; I was on three medications to control my blood pressure; my PTH was 600 or higher; and my Vitamin D level was low.  Now my BUN is in the 50’s to 60’s; I am on only one blood pressure medication; my PTH is around 300; and my Vitamin D level is normal.  Other improvements include great immunity, normal iron levels, and zero hospitals visits or stays.  These are enough reasons for others to consider stem cell treatments for their kidney problems.

Stem cell medicine is advancing at lightning speed.  Earlier this year the book, The Healing Cell, was published.  It contains impressive and incredible information about stem cell medicine for a range of medical dilemmas, including MS, lupus, arthritis, and severe burns.  New results and discoveries occur on a weekly basis, and over 2,500 clinical studies are happening in the area of adult stem cell treatments.  Stem cell medicine is a bit like a sleeper film.  Most people aren’t expecting it to become much of anything.  It will shift medical paradigms.  It is a game changer.

In less than a year’s time, the same business partner involved with the Trinidad clinic (and other Caribbean locations) has partnered with BioHeart Inc. in the United States.  The combined knowledge of the two entities is making adipose adult stem cell treaments more available in America.  Patients now also have the option of having extra stem cells harvested, cloned (expanded) in the lab, and frozen for future use.  This is remarkable!  These new USA locations have vastly more experience than an isolated plastic surgeon guessing at the right approach.  The data collected from them will impact your future, and the future of your children.

Phase Two begins for me a week from today.  I will be heading out for a second adult stem cell treatment.  Again I will board a plane.  Only this time I’ll be going to Florida.  I’ll be able to receive the treatment here at home in the United States.  The stem cells will be collected from my adipose (fat) tissue.  I hope to tour the lab while I’m out there to learn more about this growing field of medicine and possibilities.

Once again I find myself on the cutting edge of medicine.  I find myself venturing into areas that sound like a science fiction story.  My intuition tells me this is the right choice and the right time.  My grandmother, who passed away recently, will be watching over me and helping me from the Other Side.  If I am half as resilient as she was in her life, then it will all turn out extremely well.  I don’t have it in me to expect anything else.