Debs, the friend with the painful knees I mentioned in my first Stem Cells blog called me back three months later. She had travelled down to Mexico City five times since we last talked (she lives in the USA) and was bursting with enthusiasm for everything that had happened. The doctor who had treated her - Dr Elias Weizmann - is Israeli and travels the world with his stem cell treatment, my friend describing him as 'super-nice' and the treatment as 'super-easy'.
The problems Debs had with her knees had gone on for a while. The knee replacement she'd undergone a couple of years earlier hadn't really worked, instead triggering 'a thousand other things that went wrong'. A nicked nerve during the surgery had left Debs with shooting pains, alongside a weird numb spot on her calf and tendonitis. This resulted in her having to pop analgesics every other hour for months to numb the pain.
Debs already knew that she had a pre-existing degenerative cartilage problem. No cartilage was left at all in her right foot, but she hadn't been in pain before the operation. Afterwards, however, it was so bad she said she felt like the Little Mermaid every time she walked, as if her feet were on fire. When another friend told her about Dr Elias, she jumped at the chance despite not knowing anything about him other than that he was a world famous neurosurgeon. She got on a plane and headed straight to his clinic the very next week.
On that first visit, he examined her with a portable MRI machine, giving her the unhappy news that she no longer had any cartilage in her lower back or other knee either. He gave her an initial injection, taking stem cells from her shoulder, a process described by Debs as a slight pricking sensation but one that was perfectly bearable. Dr Elias then grew the stem cells for a month, turning them from a clear watery liquid into a cloudy opaque goo-like substance which was then injected back into the sites that needed healing.
Six months later, Debs' back and her knee were remarkably better - no pain at all. Her foot, although improved, was not so good. On a scale of one to ten, Debs had rated her foot pain nine pre-operation, and it had improved to five. She could now walk without pain but not run or jog. I asked what Dr Elias's view was. Why had two of her three symptoms healed entirely, but not the third? Apparently, as it’s such a new science, they don't really know the answer. Dr Elias told her that it often worked entirely, though sometimes not at all, and there was no clue in advance as to which it would be. But looking at her cartilage in live 3D, he showed her that it had begun growing again. So there was hope.
Last trip, Debs was injected in a different place entirely, to see if that would improve things. The rest of her stem cells are in the freezer, and can be used at any point they may be needed over the next five years. Debs also asked me to share the cause of her cartilage depletion - ibroprufen, aspirin and paracetamol. All the over the counter pills she had been taking to dull the pain. Apart from the recent reports in the press about increasing the risk of a heart attack by 50%, the surgeon told her that NSAIDs (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs) had played a major part in her problems. Did you know they deplete both your cartilage and your collagen? If you don't want to be old before your time, hobbling around in pain, don't risk it.
Another friend who also underwent stem cell treatment for his knees reports a miraculous improvement. Not 100% but nearly, he said. Sadly, Dr Elias never returned my messages, so I never got to interview him personally, but if he turns up in your part of the world his treatment sounds an excellent one. Remember it is a more short term solution than the others as the process has to be repeated every five years.
More from the Stem Cells series:
Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's largest breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health.
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