After an around-the-world journey in search of high-tech healing, I was lucky to receive stem cell regeneration therapy in January of this year, right here on American soil. Exactly how and why I did it – and why it took me four years – are the subject of my new book, Medicine Dog, coming in March 2014 from Lyons Press.
Dog is the key word, because a pit bull named Sam was my medical sentinel, my Medicine Dog. Thanks to Sam, I came to heal. He was successfully treated for osteoarthritis in 2008 with his own stem cells, with technology pioneered by San Diego’s Vet-Stem. Almost overnight, Sam transformed from a stiff-legged, old guy into a limber, younger-acting dog who stood strong and walked tall. My condition wasn’t orthopedic, it was gastrointestinal. But I followed Sam’s lead by seeking a doctor bold enough to treat me like a dog.
This wasn’t easy, because in the United States, human medicinal technology lags far behind its veterinary counterpart. American dogs, cats, and horses benefit enormously from sophisticated stem cell therapy that most doctors are saying won’t be available to people for another five or ten years. During a liposuction under anesthesia, the animals’ own stem cells are harvested from their own adipose (fatty) tissue, then re-injected intravenously and at the injury site to achieve remarkable healing. If the number of cells obtained is not sufficient to achieve the desired healing result, those cells may be cultured in a lab to increase their strength in numbers.
Thanks to the two visionary doctors who founded the California Stem Cell Treatment Center – Dr. Mark Berman and Dr. Elliot Lander, the very doctors who treated me – American people may now benefit from the same therapy that gets lame animals walking again. With a simple mini-liposuction, patients’ own stem cells are harvested from their own fat. However, there is one critical difference: If the number of cells obtained is not sufficient to achieve the desired healing result, tough luck. Human patients cannot have their cells cultured as animals can. Why? Because the FDA has ruled that manipulation of a person’s cells means those cells become a drug – and all drugs must be regulated for public safety.
Yet some patients simply must have their cells cultured in order to achieve optimal results with stem cell therapy. One of them is Rachel Phillips. A former dancer with the Royal Ballet of London who also performed with many other ballet companies here and abroad, Rachel moved to Vermont to start a performing arts school, then developed Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that has caused her trachea and bronchial airways to collapse (tracheobronchomalasia or TBM). Rachel has undergone numerous surgeries, tests, and other procedures, including a tracheobronchoplasty, which involves the implanting of surgical mesh to hold her airways open. Sadly, this didn’t work.
With all available medical options now exhausted, her condition continues to worsen. The beautiful ballerina with the breathtaking stage presence now must fight to take a breath. Rachel requires continuous oxygen support via a masklike CPAP unit.
But there is hope. Rachel has been examined by Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, who in 2008 performed the world’s first tissue-engineered organ transplant in Spain, seeding a donor trachea with the recipient’s own stem cells to “grow” an organ that the patient’s body welcomed with absolutely no rejection. Since the FDA prohibits the culturing of cells, Rachel cannot undergo this procedure here in the United States. To receive treatment, she will have to travel to Europe, where cell culturing is not restricted. Dr. Macchiarini has offered to treat Rachel at no charge, so Rachel’s web site solicits donations for her to travel to Europe for an extended stay, to undergo the surgery that promises to save her life.
While she waits, Rachel entrusts her day-to-day survival to a service dog named Siena. She couldn’t have a more capable canine guardian angel: This beautiful chocolate Labradoodle assists her partner with mobility and stability, and detects, by scent, declines in Rachel’s oxygen level, alerting her when she needs to check her oxygen supply. Siena is a model Medicine Dog.
This blog has three goals: 1) celebrating dogs’ amazing healing powers, 2) raising awareness of the very best that human medicine has to offer, and 3) motivating American patients to demand access to the most sophisticated health care options, so that we don’t have to travel abroad in search of treatment. Thanks for checking out Dog is My Doctor. I look forward to bringing you health and wellness scoop with a K9 angle. And I hope you’ll keep in touch – the main reason I’m excited to launch this blog is that I know the best part will be your comments, so please leave a reply!