From India to Aspen
August 7, 2008
ASPEN ” Three local women with spinal injuries are back from stem cell treatment in India and say they’re much improved.
Amanda Boxtel, Leah Roland and Kasie Burtard turned to valley residents in 2007 for the thousands of dollars needed for a treatment banned in the United States, and all three women said the controversial embryonic stem cell injections paid dividends.
They are holding an event Tuesday at the Aspen Club to say thank-you to the community and also raise more funds for ongoing treatment overseas.
The cost of an initial two-month treatment at the 20-room private clinic in New Delhi is about $40,000.
For Boxtel, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a ski accident almost 16 years ago, it was her third trip for a treatment by Dr. Geeta Shroff, who uses a groundbreaking embryonic stem cell therapy to treat people with incurable diseases, or people with injuries deemed irreversible.
Boxtel experienced surprising results from initial treatments a year ago, she said, including use of muscles long-dormant and regained bladder control.
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Subsequent one-month visits to India over the past year have meant more subtle improvements, she said.
“It’s going to be a really long road for me,” Boxtel said.
Reversing some 16 years of muscle atrophy won’t be easy, she said, and she’s not sure she’ll be able to walk as a result of the treatment.
But Boxtel is grateful that she has improved muscle control, can now walk on her knees and can wiggle her toes.
And muscle aches from physical therapy are signs of healing, she said.
Burtard, who made her first trip to India this year and stayed two months, can now move her quadriceps muscles, can stand with the help of leg braces and took her first step without them during her time in India.
Since the treatment, Roland, who walks with a cane, is off medication, and can stand straight with her knees locked and has improved use of one hand affected by her injury.
The women said the treatment program in India was rigorous, with morning and afternoon physical therapy sessions as well “gait training.”
“You have to work hard and dig deep to make ’em fire,” Roland said of atrophied muscles.
But it’s working, she added.
“We are improving,” Roland said.
But it wasn’t all about physical therapy and hospital rooms.
Burtard rode an elephant and went to the Taj Mahal, and Roland said she “went native,” shopping in markets and practicing yoga and meditation with locals.
All three said that time them made them grateful for clean air and drinking water in Aspen.
Doctors in the U.S. are “curious” about the results of stem cell therapy, Boxtel said, but don’t condone the treatment, which raises ethical issues for many and won’t pass a “conservative” Food and Drug Administration,.
Doctors at the Craig Hospital, however, are updating “unreliable and archaic” testing for spinal injury patients, Boxtel said, and in the future will be able to better measure improvements.
The fundraiser will be at the Aspen Club on Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m. and is a chance to eat, drink, listen to live music and talk with the three women about their experience overseas.
“Come check out our new bodies,” Roland said with a laugh.