One journalist's experience with stem cell therapy
PART ONE of a Three Part Series
by E. Joyce Glasgow -
Special to the SGN
This is Part ONE of a three article series documenting my personal experience with stem cell therapy and continuing results that will be appearing in the Seattle Gay News.
I used to love to walk and took for granted simple physical actions like walking, standing, navigating steps and hills, kneeling, squatting, getting up and down from a chair, a toilet or the floor. As the years have passed and I have grown older, with more and more wear and tear on my knee joints, I found that the osteoarthritis and pain in my knees kept growing, and getting increasingly worse especially with the cold and damp Seattle weather. My right knee especially had sharp, stabbing pains when walking and I began to limp around, moving slowly, with some good days, when it was warmer and dryer weather and then suddenly bad days in damp weather, not really in my control, even being careful of my diet, taking turmeric and Omega 3 oils which are natural anti-inflammatories, and glucosamine for joints. My primary care doctor ordered x-rays and found that I had no cartilage left in my right knee, my situation was bone on bone and I had developed bone spurs. My left knee had almost no cartilage and had developed bone spurs as well, but thankfully wasn't as constantly painful as my right, and I used my left leg to compensate for the difficulties with my right knee. I could no longer squat or bend down to sit on the floor, or kneel, nor could I comfortably and safely get up and down from a very low chair or toilet without excruciating pain and having to hold on to something stable to help propel me upwards back on to my feet.
I realized how easy it is to take one's knees for granted until they don't want to work anymore. It was very disillusioning and made me feel very old, weak and rather helpless and I feared that I would have to live this way for the rest of my life, unless reluctantly facing knee replacement surgery, which seemed like an incredibly invasive course to take. Since I live up a number of flights of stairs and have no helpers, I could not imagine how I would be able to get in and out of the house during the long healing process from surgery, when it is preferable to be able to stay somewhere without the challenge of a lot of stairs and have some personal help available. As the years passed, I noticed that all this pain I felt was really starting to take its toll on me emotionally as well as physically and I was getting increasingly depressed.
My perspective on day-to-day life and being successfully ambulatory began to erode. Destinations which were a two-block walk suddenly seemed like a mile away and impossible to reach on foot. It was exhausting just to get around or even think about it! I stopped going places that I normally would enjoy because of the anticipated pain and added exertion of energy outweighing the desire and enthusiasm to go. I found myself having to find ways to adapt to physical situations which had become difficult, for example, letting the stream of younger, able-bodied, fast moving people go up and down stairways at train stations and I would wait to be the last one, quiet and alone, hobbling slowly up and down, carefully holding the handrails for strength and support and for fear of mechanical knee failure and falling. It was a dark time!
About a year ago, I ran into a Capitol Hill neighborhood friend whom I had not seen in a long time, now in her seventies. She relayed that she had received stem cells for her osteoarthritis in both her knees, and was thrilled by the results. She had used the stem cells extracted from her own body. Even though it had only been about two months since her injections, she already had noticed a positive change in her mobility, and her pain had diminished quite a lot.
Hearing this gave me a lot of hope for my own situation. Maybe this would be a positive, less invasive procedure I could explore to get healing in my knees without being cut open in surgery! This could be miraculous! Stem cells have been being used for quite some time to rebuild cartilage in disintegrating joints and for other bodily repair, it just had not been on my radar and I had not seen much coverage in the news about it, probably because the stem cells are not covered at all by insurance the way surgery is, so having it done can cost thousands out of pocket, which many people cannot afford to pay. I mulled the idea around in my brain for a while, feeling emotionally hopeful and adventurous about finding a more revolutionary solution for my physical issues than surgery and began paying more attention when I started seeing notices on Facebook for free stem cell seminars in Seattle. One in particular caught my eye. Daniel Rasmussen, a graduate of the Seattle area based naturopathic school, Bastyr University, with a Masters of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, runs a clinic in the Medical Dental Building in downtown Seattle called Pinnacle Integrative Heath (https://pinnacleintegrative.com), where he specializes in acupuncture, diet, nutrition and stem cells. He was giving one of his free, explanatory talks on stem cells, to be held in a small meeting room at a hotel in Seattle. I was impressed when I called about it, because I am vegan and eat organic food as much as possible and when I asked about the complimentary lunch included, was told that they only serve a meal of fresh food from Puget Consumer Co-ops or Whole Foods. I thought we were on the same page about food, acupuncture and naturopathic healing, so I thought this was the seminar for me.
Rasmussen explained stem cells very well and talked about the different sources for the cells. He talked about umbilical stem cells and stem cells from our own bodies, Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP), extracted from our own blood. He preferred using umbilical cord stem cells, that come from umbilical cords of mothers who give birth by Cesarean, because they were fresh new cells and he believed that they have a stronger ability to promote tissue building and healing than cells from our own aging bodies. Some in the audience, including myself, were concerned about the sourcing of these cells but were assured that all the cells are thoroughly vetted and collected and tested carefully and do not come from any sources that might be compromised by diseases.
He also explained how important it is to maintain an anti-inflammatory diet during the healing process so that the stem cells can work properly to mend and heal, eliminating all inflammatory foods including all sugar, gluten, all grains, dairy, alcohol, processed foods, GMO's, soy, foods with pesticides or other chemicals or preservatives, and caffeine, and concentrate instead on organic vegetables, good fats like avocadoes and olive oil, nuts and seeds and healthy, protein sources like wild fish or non-meat proteins for non-meat eaters and drinking lots of water. He also includes four acupuncture treatments, without any additional cost, as part of the protocol, which I was excited to hear as I have gotten great results from having acupuncture in the past. While the stem cells themselves are not covered by Medicare or other insurance, all the other necessary healing therapies surrounding the stem cell therapy like the prescribed series of physical therapy treatments, any blood or other lab tests necessary and durable medical equipment (DME), like leg braces, etc., are covered by Medicare and private insurance companies. For anyone confused about stem cell sources, stem cells are not taken from any human embryos.
At the free seminar, I realized how many of us are suffering from failing, aging bodies and how many are looking with hope to stem cells as an answer for them. Many in the room had gone to their doctors for consultations about knee or hip replacement surgery or were about to but did not want to take that harsh step if there was a better alternative. There were about thirty women and men there, mostly in their 50s to 70s, some with canes and crutches and with difficulty walking, all there to be proactive about their futures and to explore the best outcomes possible for more normal, pain-free living.
I decided that I wanted to do the stem cell procedure, but had the major hurdle of cost. I could not afford the thousands of dollars out of pocket necessary for the stem cells, even on a long-term payment plan, generally about $5,000 to $6,000 for one small, precious vial of stem cells, and I needed at least one vial per knee. The clinic does have an offer to do a discount on one or multiple vials for their potential patients who attend one of their seminars beforehand. I proposed to Daniel Rassmussen that I write a three-part honest episodic account, over time, of my experience with the stem cells and subsequent results, as a documenting journalist (for better or worse) and write it for the Seattle Gay News, a paper that I had written for, a number of years in the past. I thought there would be a number of older readers of SGN who would be very interested in hearing how stem cells worked out for me, when considering their own physical circumstances and possible healing procedures. Rassmussen and several of his office colleagues are members of the Seattle Gay community and he was very open to exchanging me the stem cells for my personal, three part written account of my continuing experience and results in the Seattle Gay News.
I began my anti-inflammatory diet and a few days later I got my stem cell injections, one vial in each knee, in mid-summer, 2018. Before the injections, I was given a very effective half hour acupuncture treatment with electric stimulation around both knees to increase the blood flow around my knees to prepare the area for the injections to be optimal. This was the first of four, half -hour electrical stimulation acupuncture treatments included, once a week for the first four weeks from the day of injections. The four acupuncture treatments over the next month were performed by two of the clinic's very knowledgeable and gentle acupuncturists, Nicole Johnson and Maria Arvola.
The stem cell injections were painless with the use of a topical cold spray anesthesia and only took a couple of minutes total. The procedure was performed by Jennifer D'Andrea, the Medicare certified, Family Nurse Practitioner at Pinnacle Integrative Health. She holds a Master of Science in Nursing and has advanced training in Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy and Stem Cell Therapy. She said that the injections might give me a feeling of 'fullness' in my knees and she was right. The first hour or so, I had a very strange, unusual feeling in my knees. After that, for some reason, while sitting in the chair at my afternoon dental appointment, a couple of hours later, I suddenly began to have excruciating pain in both my knees and could barely walk or move my knees without being in agony. I didn't know why I was feeling so badly but managed to get home with the help of a cab and went directly to bed, where I stayed and slept for most of the weekend waiting for the pain to subside. I called the doctor who told me that because I had a sensitive system I was having a healing crisis and that was a good thing because it meant that the stem cells were going to work full force. He said that I was the first of the many umbilical cell recipients that they have treated at the clinic to have such a strong physical pain reaction. My primary care doctor was not surprised when I told her what happened because she said that injections of any kind in the knees can cause some pain. I recommend, that if you do the stem cell injections, whether umbilical cord or PRP injections, that you plan to do them when you have nothing else planned the same day following the treatment or even for a couple of days afterwards and that you do not drive yourself to your appointment. Have someone else take you and pick you up afterwards or plan to take an Uber, Lyft or cab home, just in case you have unexpected pain afterwards.
However, do not be dissuaded from doing the injections, because as I said, my extreme reaction was unusual. After resting for the weekend, my knees started feeling a lot better and I was able to go about my regular, pre-injection activities and was quite relieved to be doing so. I had been weighed at my primary care clinic one day before my injections and when I was weighed again nine days later, I had already lost an astounding seven pounds, effortlessly, just by maintaining my anti-inflammatory diet. I was thrilled and surprised. I went into Pinnacle the next week to be fitted for a comfortable leg brace on my right knee. This brace has done wonders to keep pressure off my knee and to help anatomically. I found that I started having pains in my feet after the injections as my weight began to shift around. Nurse D'Andrea suggested that I buy a pair of Hoka's at REI for better support and cushioning and these shoes have been wonderful and have provided me with the ability to withstand walking and standing on hard surfaces, without fatigue or pain.
During the first three weeks or so I had to summon up an incredible amount of discipline to maintain my anti-inflammatory diet. Eating at home and being able to provide myself with organic, simple, pesticide free food with no additives was great. However, if I was out and about and hungry, it became difficult to find any food that I could eat because most is prepared or processed in some way with hidden ingredients like sugar, soy, sodium, preservatives, gluten, grains, GMO's and residual pesticides. That was very hard on days when I was super hungry. One day, during the difficult diet transition, I could not resist temptation one time and went into a Thai restaurant for vegetables with rice noodles and peanut sauce. When I told Nurse D'Andrea, she let me know, in no uncertain terms that that one meal was 'junk food' and would inflame my body for three weeks! After hearing that and considering the amount of effort I was putting into the diet, I no longer fell prey to temptation.
The thought of three weeks of inflammation being a result of a one-time craving put everything into sober perspective! One saving grace was that I managed to find organic, vegan protein bars with only one gram of sugar, that I keep with me when out, to have as a snack, until my next home-made meal. I have learned to adapt, while out, to going to have a healthy meal at a convenient PCC, Madison Market or Whole Foods store, where I can find simple, ingredient-identified salad bar items to choose from. It then became easier to follow the diet when hungry outside of my home.
By the end of four weeks I had effortlessly lost sixteen pounds and was amazed at how just being completely alert to ingredients to avoid; sugars, grains of any kind, gluten, dairy, caffeine, alcohol and soy, miraculously shed the pounds. With this large weight loss, I also had some of the pressure taken off my knees and I could walk more fluidly with less of the original pains in my knees. I still had issues with my right knee, the worse of the two, going up and down stairs and up and down hills, but was very encouraged by the improvement and hopeful for the further success of my stem cell therapy.
I began my prescribed physical therapy visits almost three weeks after my injections, twice a week at ATI, a large physical therapy company, with a number of offices in the Seattle area, referred by Nurse D'Andrea. I choose the University District office and it was an excellent choice. I have a wonderful physical therapist, who spent some time, in my early series of visits, doing some very needed deep tissue massage work on my legs, which was incredibly helpful. I then would go to exercise in their gym where I would do 15 minutes on the recumbent bike as well as leg strengthening exercises and some kettle bell exercises, gradually being given greater challenges. Everyone there is pleasant and helpful and I am impressed at it being some of the best, most practical and effective on-going physical therapy that I have ever had before. My prescribed exercises are also easy to do at home.
After six weeks since my injections, I had lost another six pounds, for a grand total of a twenty-two-pound weight loss in only six weeks! I started walking on flat ground with even more ease and grace, without a limp and even with a faster gait than I had been able to achieve in a long time. I found myself looking forward to walking places and was delighted by my progress. Especially in week five and six I noticed that some activities had become easy and pain free, simple things like just moving my legs to get out of bed, without pain, were a delightful surprise. I began walking about a mile at a time, in some circumstances, and was actually able to do it without problems. The left knee and leg were getting much stronger and pain free. I still had issues with the right knee on stairs and hills but the right continued to improve also, just more slowly. I will update readers on my continuing progress and healing in two upcoming SGN follow-up articles.
For more information on Stem Cell Therapy, acupuncture, nutrition, diet, lifestyle change and upcoming free Stem Cell seminars in the Seattle area, contact Daniel Rasmussen at (206) 624-0397. https://pinnacleintegrative.com. Please mention that you saw this article in the Seattle Gay News.
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