Stem cell treatment is becoming more well-known, not always in a good way. But most reputable practitioners are having good results with carefully drawn and properly placed stem cells. People are curious about stem cell treatment, and most wish that insurance companies would cover it. Unfortunately, it most likely will be a long road ahead to get that changed.
It has been one full year since my stem cell treatment. Since friends are asking how it’s going, I thought it’s time for an update on my previous post. Please read this if you want to know the details of why I chose stem cell treatment over joint replacement. In addition, this post outlines the costs and procedures.
Stem Cell Treatment Results
Of course, everyone wants to know if the stem cell treatment worked. The short answer is ‘Yes and No.’
‘Yes’, it did what it was expected to do, which was to relieve pain and improve functionality. Before stem cell treatment, I was unable to walk even a few steps without extreme pain. The day after the injections, I no longer had that deep joint pain.
I can now walk a few miles if the terrain is relatively flat, if I go slowly, use walking sticks, and take breaks every mile or so. Even teaching Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance, I still have noticeable pain, but not the level as before. Standing has become my more comfortable position, and I do this for hours at a time.
What I cannot do in practical terms is dance, ride a bike, dig a hole with a shovel, haul a heavily loaded wheelbarrow, sit in a soft and/or low seat, sit for any length of time. My range of motion is extremely limited, and I cannot bend forward. You should see the contortions I have to bend my body into to get my shoes and socks on. (Actually, maybe better that you don’t see that!) Additionally, cutting my toenails is another off-limit movement. There is simply no bending forward for me at all.
What the Images Reveal
The photo at the top is my hip. The bone-on-bone lack of cartilage and inflammation are clearly visible even to the untrained eye. Looks pretty painful, huh?
The pain that I now feel is right at the front, where there is a labral tear and the bones grind. Evidently this is quite common. My doctor used the analogy of being in a room with loud sound systems blasting. If you shut off the loudest, you’ll then hear the next loudest. So this pain was always there, but it wasn’t as prominent in my consciousness as the deep joint pain.
Even though I now have greater functionality than before, the osteoarthritis has progressed. My doctor said unless I can stop the progression of the disease, I may have to consider joint replacement.
The Problem with Joint Replacement
While many people have good results with joint replacement, there are plenty more who have problems. Once the bones are cut off, there is no going back. With my severe chemical sensitives, I know a joint replacement would doom me to a lifetime of illness. All implants, regardless of which materials are used, grind and send minute particles into the blood stream.
From what I’ve been able to determine, the metal implants are rarely used because they have proven to cause too many problems. The titanium implants have aluminum in their composition, and I haven’t been able to find out much about ceramic implants. That research is not something I care to spend any more time on. Once I found out that they are ALL coated in Teflon to assist smoother operation of the joint, that completely eliminated this option for me.
Yes, this is the same toxic chemical that we are all trying to eliminate from our cookware. Called PFOA, for perfluorooctanoic acid, this indestructible, forever chemical is used in a wide range of consumer products, including water repellents on camping gear such as tents, sleeping bags, and even clothing. Two years in a row I had to cut my camping trip short because I became so wretchedly ill from using a standard tent. Each time it took me well over a week to recover. Consequently, Teflon is obviously out.
What the Doctor Said
In my one-year post treatment consultation, my doctor said the best option was to have another round of injections in the Cayman clinic (see my previous post for information on why I chose that clinic). In order of most likely to help stop the progression of the disease:
- Full bone marrow aspiration and culturing at the Cayman clinic ($10,500) plus re-injection cycle ($9000). This involves two trips to Grand Cayman, once for the draw and culturing. The other, about a month later, for the injections. Any additional services such as Manipulation Under Anesthesia or additional draw and culturing are extra. A companion or caretaker is required to accompany the patient on the injection cycle. The stem cells help to improve the tissues and normalize the joint environment. This option requires a 10-day visit for full treatment plus travel, lodging, food expenses. Fortunately, I had stem cells stored on my last visit, and could use those, which would save one trip down.
- Full bone marrow aspiration and ‘same day’ treatment at a clinic in the US with additional platelet–rich-plasma (PRP) injection. This process requires a 7-day visit for full treatment plus additional in-person consultation, most likely done the week before. Cost is roughly $7500 plus approximately $1700 for additional PRP. Add travel, lodging, food expenses if needed. I may need more than one treatment. Stem cells can be injected into the tissues around the joint as many times as needed, but only once into the bones like I did in Cayman.
- PRP plus Hyaluronic Acid (brand name Hyalgan) injections in the US. Cost is approximately $1700 for PRP and $900 for Hyalgan each time. The Hyalagan is only FDA approved for use in knees, though off-label use has shown to help relieve pain in hips as well. Several treatments would be needed, plus travel, lodging, food expenses if applicable.
- PRP injections only. The purpose of this is to fill the gap in the labral tear, though it most likely will not result in much pain relief. Several treatment would be needed, plus travel, lodging, food expenses if applicable.
My Next Stem Cell Treatment Step
What to do, that’s the big question. As I watch the balance in my savings account dwindle, that makes the first option non-attainable. Even the second option is a big hit on the bank account. None-the-less, I am currently researching a Regenexx clinic in CA. Inexpensive Alaska Air flights from Seatac to Sacramento, and a generous family member who will allow me to occupy a guest room makes this my most effective option. Though in time I may need another treatment, at least most of my money will actually be spent on my well-being and not on expensive travel and lodging.
By the way, there is a Regenexx clinic closer to where I live. But when inquiring there during my treatment decision last year, interactions with that office were decidedly unpleasant. I’d rather spend my hard-earned money where people are nice to me, wouldn’t you?
I also need to continue my daily Egoscue exercises. At some point, I’ll need to renew my contract with the Seattle clinic and get new exercises as my body becomes accustomed to the current routines. This program has been critical in my ability to function daily with less pain. It helps align my body so there is less pressure placed on the injured joint. Fortunately, the clinic manager works with me via online conferencing for most of my appointments.
The docu-series ‘The Sacred Plant’ has been intriguing. I have long had reactive issues to cannabis – yes, even phyto-chemicals cause problems. But in this series I learned there are over 100 different species of cannabis, each with varying properties that support different human bodily functions. For medicinal purposes, each variety may be best utilized via different transport systems that I had not considered. For example, oils, tinctures, teas, vaporized, ground fresh leaves as in a smoothie are different prescribed methods for patients.
This has me thinking that perhaps there is a strain to which I won’t have such drastic reaction. Perhaps the size of the dose or the delivery was wrong for me. Now as I research this angle, I find there are quite a number of hybridized strains specific for curbing inflammation. Certainly I would need to test it prior to buying, but it does give me additional hope.
Of course, I walk; teach Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance and Qigong; adhere to a whole plant food based diet; manage stress with Qigong; try to get plenty of rest, and take more time off. Cold laser treatments are a weekly component of my regimen. Though my body tells me they are beneficial, the sensation of relief is fleeting.
I’ve researched many other alternative treatments, none of which resulted as positive for benefit when I tested. Other than that, I don’t know what else I can do except keep a positive outlook and never give up. I just need to hang in there until the science and the medical-insurance-political systems align.
The Bottom Line
You might be wondering, was it worth it? My answer is ‘absolutely YES!’ I have no regrets about my decisions. I only wish I’d had the where-with-all earlier in my life to advocate for myself as I do now. Perhaps I would be in a better position now. I can remember the exact moment I tore that labrum. If I’d done more research then, I would have found that the initial tear could have been treated with arthroscopic surgery. But then again, maybe there is a greater reason for where I am now.
Thank you for reading this, and thank you for your interest. What are your thoughts on this? What have you heard about stem cell treatment? Do you know anyone who has healed osteoarthritis with cannabis or other alternative methods? Please post your comments below so others may learn as well.