Stem Cell Treatment Comes to Life(Caution: This particular blog describes a wound on my hip, not an uncommon occurrence for folks paralyzed and without sensation on their bodies. Photos of the wound may be too graphic for some readers).
I knew the prospect of surgery was possible, as Dr. Gibbons asked that I have a consultation with Dr. Helm several months earlier during my traditional treatment for this wound. At the time, Dr. Helm basically told me that in some cases, skin is used from another part of the body, the buttocks for example, and used to close the wound in question.
|Dr. Laurence Helm|
The drawbacks are obvious, as you now have two wounds that have to heal. In my case, I'd be bed-ridden for the majority of the time because I'm paralyzed. And, it could take months for both wounds to heal, if they do heal. To me, it seemed risky, and debilitating. Frankly it scared me.
With that as background, in October of 2015 during a weekly
Brigham and Women’s Medical Center for immediate surgery and he would contact Dr. Helm and alert him to the emergency. The next day Dr. Helm performed surgery.
|Wound, post surgery|
Although I had excellent care at South Shore Hospital, it didn’t matter that I had great doctors, or a significant number of medical hours devoted to me by nurses and staff, or the necessary hospitalization and surgery - - my Stage 4 wound would not heal.
"Stage IV wounds may feature extensive loss or damage to tissue, muscles and bones, and often feature muscle and bone that is exposed. The severity of a wound can often cause complications and disrupt the support of the joint or body area that it affects."My wound was not caused by neglect by me or the result of a careless skin regiment. I sustained this wound more than 20 years ago when a doctor, during a medical procedure, injected an antibiotic into my hip. Instead of penetrating skin and perhaps muscle, the needle hit my hip. Over the last several decades I developed a bone spur, due to calcium "leaking from the bone."
At the time, Dr. Gibbons believed there was a high probability that my wound wouldn’t close by itself. Therefore, I was at risk for more infections, additional surgeries, hip disarticulation, amputation and in my mind, maybe death from infection. I was scared. Little did I know, a cure for my wound, called Grafix, was just down the hall from my treatment room at South Shore Hospital.
The stem cell miracle begins
While treating me, Dr. Gibbons, Medical Director of the South Shore Wound Center in Massachusetts, was also treating patients with a relatively new product called Grafix, a product that has already been proven to work in healing wounds for diabetic patients with ulcers as well as veterans with battlefield wounds sustained by members of our Armed Forces, affectionately known, in some circles, as “Wounded Warriors.”
Grafix is a cryo-preserved (preserved by cooling to a subzero temperature) human placental tissue currently being used by doctors to treat chronic wounds such as diabetic foot ulcers, venous leg ulcers, and pressure ulcers, as well as acute wounds such as surgical incisions, burns and trauma.
Grafix is basically formed into a “stem cell cover” that is applied to the surface of a wound, such as I had. Other forms of the same type of placental tissue have been used for 100 years and is becoming a standard treatment for chronic wounds.
Dr. Gibbons said my wound "had characteristics similar to those wounds previously treated and healed by Grafix." Grafix is not considered "standard treatment" for wounds like mine, but it should be. Some medical plans cover the treatment in some states here in America, but others don't.
My medical plan, for example, didn't cover the treatment in Massachusetts. As a result of this inequity, the result is a lack of "healthcare disability inclusion," when it comes to individuals with spinal cord injury, or other ailments, for example.
"Stem cell treatments in a broad sense," says Dr. Gibbons, "are used in some regions of the United States and for some treatments. That's because approvals are made my regional or jurisdictional advisory entities.
"The oversight of these medical decisions are fragmented, and some times treatment success in one place is not shared or presented to others," Gibbons says. "This remains a problem in the United States and around the world."
Innovative Thinking is Essential to Wound Healing
Since World War II, some soldiers injured in the war, who sustained a spinal cord injury, were saved from death because of Dr. Howard Rusk, founder of the Rusk Institute in New York City, who developed new practices and procedures, which at that time, could also be considered investigative.
Dr. Rusk’s breakthrough procedures included catheterization and bowel and bladder management. Today, much of his work has been “accepted” and considered standard practice, and medically necessary today. If not for Dr. Rusk and his foresight, spinal cord injured people -- people with paralysis due to stroke and other issues in my view, would not be alive today.
I consider Dr. Rusk’s work, whom I met as a spinal cord injury patient in 1982, a classic example of innovative thinking at a time when these men and women had little chance to recover and were likely destined to die. Unfortunately, pessimistic and narrow-minded thinking still exists today; but that’s fodder for another blog.
Where Grafix Stands Today
“I believe Grafix is at the cusp of innovative and affordable treatment for wounds due to spinal cord injury as well as diabetic ulcers,” said Dr. Gibbons. “Grafix may very well be at the forefront of new treatment for chronic wounds that heal slowly or can't be healed at all, sometimes resulting in amputation or worse."
"Frankly," Dr. Gibbons said, "Grafix may be at the precipice of breakthrough solutions for orthopedic nuero-wound care in today's global medical environment.”
During medical treatment and recovery for my wound, costs incurred by my medical plan as well as my personal costs -- medical premiums, deductibles and out of pocket spending, surgery, hospitalization - - would have been significantly less if I had the opportunity to use the Grafix treatment at the outset of my diagnosis.
Dr. Gibbons, his medical team and associates throughout the United States, as well as the Grafix team, have already seen results indicating that stem cell treatment could be successful in cases such as mine.
Brave American soldiers coming home with shrapnel wounds have also benefited from this treatment in Osiris trials with the Grafix product.
Many spinal cord injury patients today live longer and experience different kinds of medical conditions as we age. My wound was one of those conditions, thus the explosion of medical equipment that includes beds, nursing home long-term-care, wheelchairs, walkers, devices and medicines used to help treat those who become inactive due to these injuries.
I remain very active and continue to serve on boards as well as consult with corporations on behalf of people with disabilities. Grafix and similar progressive treatments offer new hope and innovations to help individuals with disabilities continue to make contributions to society.
Grafix and other stem cell based products may just well be the breakthrough treatment for wound care due to paralysis. Without this treatment, in the darkest recesses of my mind, I shudder at the thought that without stem cell treatment I may not have written this blog, or had the chance to help current and future disabled individuals as the Head of Disability Inclusion at JP Morgan Chase & Company.
*Dr. Gibbons and I do not have a fiduciary or consultative relationship with Grafix or Osiris.
|Wound on admission at South |
|Wound healed, July 25, 2016|
|Dr.Gibbons and members of the South Shore Wound Care Hospital team celebrate my discharge after 10 months of treatment.|