Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stem cells show promise for treating cerebral palsy


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Dominic King and Harrison Spiers have so much in common. Best friends for seven years, they are both in the 5th grade at Cottonwood Creek Elementary School. They both love to ride horses. They both love to go to baseball games. And both were born with Cerebral Palsy.

"It's (caused) a lack of oxygen before, during, or right after birth," Dominic's mom, Christina King explained. "With Dominic, we don't know what happened."

Alicia Spiers, Harrison's mother, says he can't feed himself, can't give himself a bath and can't take himself to the bathroom.

"It's just like having a newborn in a 10-year-old's body," Spiers told us.

The families tried everything from therapy to experimental procedures, but nothing seemed to be helping. Then, last year, Harrison's parents asked him what he wanted for Christmas. "I want stem cells," he told them.

His parents knew right where to turn. They had a friend named Jessie Hinkley, a medical student.

"I taught them about a new procedure being done in Germany where they can take stem cells from the bone marrow from that patient and turn them into brain cells, and then go up to the brain and repair sites that were damaged," Hinkley said.

Harrison's father said the procedure is not related to the use of embryonic stem cells.

"There's been a lot of debate on health care, and stem cells. This is not controversial. They are taking it from (Harrison's) own body and putting it back in his own body. It's here and now, not maybe 30 years from now," he said.

But the procedure is not done in the United States, so the boys would have to raise thousands of dollars and travel to Germany. Fortunately, their school and their community stepped up and made it possible.

"It's amazing. I know we keep saying that word, but truly is," Alicia Spears. "(We) hear it everyday on the news…people are being laid off, unemployment numbers are up, money is tight. And yet, people in this neighborhood and this community found a way to write checks."

"It hit me, I started crying in the car and thought this is just unbelievable what people will do," Christina King said.

The boys took the trip to Germany and had the stem cell treatment done in August. They were back in time to start the school year, and their families say they've already started to see the results.

Dominic is starting to read. Harrison is sitting up by himself. Speaking is getting easier. Their parents don't know how much to credit the stem cell therapy, but they are convinced it has made a difference.

"I see things almost every day: (Harrison's) fine motor skills get better, just a little bit more everyday," Alicia Spiers says. "People used to say 'hi' to him and you could count to 10 before he would say 'hi' back. Now it's pretty instant."

Harrison's father hopes other people with other disabilities can take advantage of the procedure.

"There's really no limit to what could happen. That's the part that's intoxicating."