Experimental treatment amazes
A severly disabled girl who travelled to Mexico for experimental stem cell treatment has made incredible improvements within days of the surgery, her family says.
Jaide Pearson, 8, has a new sparkle in her eye. Her family say she can now hold her head up and sit unaided in a car for the first time in her life.
Jaide is a blind quadriplegic with epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Her Levin family raised $43,000 to take her to Fernando Ramirez's Tijuana clinic a month ago, hoping for a miracle cure.
The treatment is banned in New Zealand and most other countries. Neurological specialists here warn it is still experimental and may result in "unwanted neurological functions".
But Jaide's family has been amazed by her improvement.
"She used to sit with her head dangling on her chest in her wheelchair. She can now hold her head up, it is wonderful," Jaide's grandfather Norm Pearson said.
With more strength in her torso the family no longer had to rely on a special car baby seat – she could sit normally on the back seat and her seizures were not as frequent or severe, her mother, Jayne Pearson said. "Her eyes are clearer and brighter, she is more vocal making vowel-type sounds. She seems less baby–like, I am just rapt with the improvements. I sneak into into her bedroom at night to spy on her and think, `what is she going to do next?' it is so cool."
Staying at a Californian hotel, they were driven to a nearby clinic on the day of the treatment to pick up four vials containing 1.5 million stem cells in each, valued at NZ$5600.
The family then took the vials across the border to Dr Ramirez's clinic.
After delaying their trip for three months because of swine flu, Jayne broke down in tears when she watched her daughter undergo the treatment. Jaide was anaesthetised before a catheter was inserted into a vein in her groin running up to the base of her brain.
An Auckland family who visited the clinic in July are also delighted.
Ramiza Jannif's daughter Rhyshah, 5, also a blind quadriplegic suffering from epilepsy, can sit for the first time, giggle, scratch herself and no longer relies on medication for bowel movements.
"I am absolutely stunned," Mrs Jannif said. "She has come out of her world of darkness. She is more alive, responsive, looks at us, rolls her eyes towards a sound and sits on my lap like a normal child and listens to a story instead of rolling around. It is very exciting. We know it is not proven but we could not sit and do nothing."
The Mexican Government issued Dr Ramirez a licence in 1991 to administer stem cells to treat conditions including cerebral palsy, strokes, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.
The cells are sourced from the umbilical cords of healthy newborn US babies. The stem cells grow to replace damaged neurons, but sometimes fail to function as hoped.
Dr Ramirez said he had hadhuge success treating hundreds of people. "If they follow the rules all patients show improvement. Some with spinal injuries have recovered completely. We have had children born paralysed, blind, whose doctors advised the families to pull the tubes. Now they are 16, 17, can see, speak, are close to normal."
The treatment, costing NZ$29,300, could be administered intravenously or for severely disabled people through a catheter.
Professor Tim Anderson, of Christchurch's Van der Veer Neurological Institute, stressed the therapy was still very experimental.
"The evidence is not clear enough about the sustained benefits. Some Parkinson's patients have benefited to quite a significant degree but there are still problems that need to be ironed out."
THE STEM CELL PROCEDURE
Stem cell therapy procedure for severely disabled patients unable to receive the treatment by intravenous injections:
*Patients are first anaesthetised
*A catheter is inserted into the groin running to the base of the brain
*Saline solution is inserted into the catheter
*Vials (the number depends on the severity of the patient's condition) containing 1.5 million stem cells are inserted into the catheter
*Patients are advised to expect changes within three to four weeks
*The stem cells can grow into neurons, replacing damaged ones, but specialists say some do not function as they should.
STEM-CELL TREATMENT 'WORTH IT FOR HOPE'
The family of a Rotorua woman who travelled to China for experimental stem-cell treatment but died 20 months later says it improved her condition for a short time and gave her hope.
Willie Terpstra, 64, flew to Beijing in March 2005 for a similar but different stem-cell treatment to Jaide Pearson's, to combat motor neurone disease. Her condition improved initially before her symptoms returned and she died peacefully in her husband Rein's arms in November 2006.
Mr Terpstra said he could not recommend or condemn the treatment. It was up to individual patients to decide.
"I do not regret it. We knew she was a guinea pig but it provided improvements for a short time and gave her hope, something to look forward to," Mr Terpstra said.
In the treatment, two million cells from aborted foetuses' noses were inserted into his wife's brain.
Within days her drinking, eating, talking and breathing improved, but after a fortnight the disease took over again, he said.
Mrs Terpstra's daughter Remiske said the family had secretly hoped for a miracle cure.
"It made it all the more heartbreaking knowing it would not cure her but you cannot help hoping for a miracle. Mum loved babies, knew the cells came from aborted babies that would not have been saved anyway and believed if some good could come from it, it would have been worthwhile."
The Dominion Post