I have created this blog to attempt to help those with chronic pain and depression. Sisyphus was a mythological figure sentenced to roll a stone uphill for eternity. In this way, I intend to approach chronic pain and depression as constant foes that must be your constant focus. Photo courtesy http://akrockefeller.com/blog/tibetan-autonomy-a-futile-odyssey/

Friday, April 15, 2016

A layman's description of Regenexx Stem Cell Therapy

If you know me at all, you know how vocal I am about the recent procedure I went through for my osteoarthritis.  I wanted to explain in my own terms what the Regenexx procedure is and what it involves.

As I have mentioned previously in this blog, I have severe osteoarthritis (OA) in my left knee due to an injury that occurred about 15 years ago.  I have dealt with this medically through a number of ways, including two knee surgeries, steroid injections (for my knee, back and neck), gel injections, to name a few.  Where I began to see improvement was through chiropractic care, omitting foods that are high in sugar or gluten, and exercise.  Despite my best efforts, I eventually succumbed to the injury and was unable to walk without the use of a cane or leg brace. 

At this point, I decided to talk earnestly with an orthopedic surgeon about my options.  Although the minimum recommended age for a knee replacement is 50, at age 42, I had two separate orthopedic surgeons tell me that my OA was bad enough in my left knee to justify a replacement.  One of these doctors told me that he would put my knee at the age of someone in their 60s who had OA.

One day at a friend’s house, I told him of my plans, since he and I both shared a similar knee injury.  My friend is also a physical therapist, and he strongly encouraged me to forego the replacement, as he had seen this result in hip problems, along with the probability that the procedure could not be repeated, which would leave me completely out of a knee.

He had been researching stem cell therapy, and showed me a series of videos for a procedure originating in Colorado named Regenexx.  I was initially very skeptical and told him although I was impressed with the videos, I would need to think on it.  After all, I was already scheduled for the knee replacement, and what guarantee did I have that this wasn’t some marketing ploy by a crafty company, or that this would even work for me?

The wheels had already started to turn however, so I dug into their literature.  The great thing about Regenexx is the sheer volume of research they have done on their procedure.  If you are a numbers junky or love compare charts and charts of data, as I do, I encourage you to go to their website at www.regenexx.com.  If you think I am nuts for enjoying that sort of thing, I’ve got you covered, because I am going to explain to you exactly what the procedure is, and how it differs from others that are being offered.

All through our bodies there are stem cells.  I am no doctor and cannot go into great detail on this, but basically, stem cells are workers inside your body whose job it is to repair tissue.  When you go through an injury, such as I did involving a car accident, the toxicity in the injured area can drive away the stem cells.  In their absence, things start to go south.  In my case, my cartilage began to degenerate.  Nothing was there to help sustain it, and according to one study I read, cartilage in the knee due to OA can degenerate at a rate of approximately 4-5% per year:

Assuming this is true, over a 10-15 year period, you would lose the majority of your cartilage from the injured joint. 
 The Regenexx procedure consists of four visits:

1. Initial evaluation and determination of qualification for procedure.  Any doctor who performs the Regenexx procedure must go to training in the home facility in Colorado.  Only about 1 out of every 10 doctors who apply to perform this procedure are accepted by Regenexx.  So rest assured that if you go to a clinic that performs this procedure, they want to represent the brand as best as they can.  Not everyone qualifies for the procedure. That is to say, not everyone is a good candidate.  This is too complicated for me to go into here, but the takeaway is that your doctor will tell you your odds of the procedure’s ability to work for you.  If you agree to go to the next step, you will be scheduled for 3 additional visits:

2.  Prolotherapy:  This is a fancy term for an injection of saline/sugar solution.  This is prep for the actual stem cell therapy.  I noticed nothing at all after this.  No additional pain or relief.

3. The big day!  Stem cell therapy!    This is about 3 days after the prolotherapy.

a.       You start the day with a blood draw. 
b.       About half hour later, you have the bone marrow extraction.  Most of the questions I have had are about the bone marrow extraction.  First of all, you are completely awake for all of this.  No sedation, you walk out the same day and don’t have the side effects of being put to sleep.  This puts the fear of God in some people.  The pain of the bone marrow extraction is on par with getting a cavity drilled.  I wouldn’t rate it any worse than that.  You lay on your stomach, they numb you up, then you put headphones on to drown out the sound of the drill.  You feel a slightly unpleasant pressure for a short time, then your doctor taps you on the shoulder and says you are all done, go get some breakfast!
c.       About 2-2.5 hours later, you get the stem cell injection.  They injected me in three locations in my knee (about 1/3 of the vial of stem cells in each location) and honestly, I didn’t feel much of anything.  After this, you are done.  You will feel woozy from the blood draw and events of the day, so you need someone to drive you.

4. Post stem cell platelet (SCP) blood draw.  This is one of the unique characteristics of this procedure.  They take more blood from you after the fact, spin that down into a strong concentration of platelets, and inject it into the stem cell-rich area to help boost their effectiveness.  The platelets act as a sort of espresso shot for the stem cells.

Here is a great video of what happens with the stem cell platelet process, and why the length of the procedure helps improve the outcome: 

So, what makes this different from the other method that is being performed locally, which is the use of fat-extracted stem cells?  In a nutshell, the amount of stem cells they harvest from marrow is massive compared to that from fat. 

Why is that important?  When they inject the stem cells in your injured joint, your immune system attacks them.  They are soldiers who don’t know any better than to attack what they perceive as a foreign body that has been air dropped into the battlefield. 

I can personally vouch for this.  Although I couldn’t see inside my knee the evening of my stem cell injection, I know there must have been a battle on the level of the beaches of Normandy, because my knee swelled out to a size somewhere between a golf ball and tennis ball.  This eventually subsided.

Bone marrow stem cells are more appropriate for orthopedic tissue repair with the Regenexx process negating any difference in the stem cell content of bone marrow versus fat. 

I have heard of someone locally who had the fat-extracted stem cell method performed more than once, and that ‘it helps for a little while, but not much’. 

As for me, about 1 week after the last injection, I was completely free of the cane, walking with only a knee brace.  I was able to walk up and down steps, something that would have been impossible for me to do just a week prior without leaning heavily on a cane.

I am now almost 7 weeks post-op, and am completely free of the knee brace.  I am working through physical therapy, working on regaining stability of the joint, riding a stationary bike and swimming laps.

More importantly, I am playing with my kids!  Doing house chores (a harmful side-effect of getting better, I am afraid 😁), and generally, living a happier life. 

I was in a very dark place in the lead up to this procedure.  To put it bluntly, I was miserable and making everyone around me miserable.  Regenexx has done more for me than transplant stem cells….it has renewed my hope.  It has started to grow a belief in myself and my self-worth that I thought I had completely lost.  In short, it has saved my life.

If you decide to explore the Regenexx option, you need to ask yourself what your health is worth to you.  Look at the testimonies on their website, listen to mine.  I have nothing to gain from this by telling you what it has done for me.  I am not being paid by them to say ingratiating things about them.  It is just that I see so much suffering.  I see so many people in so much pain, losing so much of their life.  Seeing their families lose that time with them.

If you are told by anyone that you cannot regrow cartilage, that is unequivocally a lie.   Recently on an episode of the doctors, a Regenexx patient was showcased that had lost cartilage, and had replenished it through this procedure:

Someone I recently met, Julie Cerrone, who has for the past few years walked on crutches, has completely regained her life in an amazing way. 

She is a Patient Influence Network Director and actively spreads the good news of her recovery, and gives advice on how to lead a healthy, happy life.  Please watch her video and check out her website at http://www.itsjustabadday.com/

These are only a couple of success stories out of the thousands of procedures that have been performed. 

With that, I will end this entry into my blog.  May God bless you as he has me.

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