Area woman eyes stem-cell treatment
November 25, 2007
CARBONDALE – Kasie Burtard is focused.
A car accident in 2002 at the age of 19 left the Carbondale native paralyzed from just above her navel down.
But Burtard, who lives in New Castle and works for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, hopes to go to India for an experimental embryonic stem cell treatment that is illegal in the U.S.
Recently she joined Challenge Aspen co-founder Amanda Boxtel and Leah Roland of Aspen for a fundraiser themed “pursuing possibilities.”
The group will host a fundraiser and poker tournament at Jimmy’s Restaurant on Dec. 16 and a benefit at the Aspen Club on Dec. 18.
“I’m ready to not be in this chair,” Burtard said, and she hopes the treatment will give her some movement or feeling.
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“I know that I’m not going to leave India walking, but I wish. It’ll take definitely some hard work, and I’m prepared,” she said.
Boxtel already has been to India 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.
The cost of a two-month treatment in India is about $40,000.
Boxtel has her own fundraising effort and needs just $15,000 for her next treatment.
Roland recently raised more than $20,000 during a silent auction and spin-a-thon at the Aspen Athletic Club.
Burtard joked that she is starting her fundraising with, “like negative zero.”
She hopes to travel to India in February.
Driving to work in 2002, Burtard hit a patch of ice and went off the road. She wasn’t wearing her seat belt and was ejected out the back passenger window.
She fractured her jaw, ribs, bones around her right eye socket, and the T-8, T-9 and T-10 bones in her back.
“For two years, I was depressed. I was very depressed,” Burtard said.
But with no hint of self-pity, the confident 25 year old jokes about the days she spent sitting in her parent’s basement watching Lifetime all day.
“When you’re 19, you don’t know who you are anyway,” Burtard said, but her injury made it more difficult.
She was engaged to be married briefly before she “pushed him away,” she said. She studied at Mesa State for a time before landing an administrative job with the DOW. Then she found out that she wasn’t alone.
At a treatment center in Texas, Burtard met Stacy Allen, a luge competitor with a similar injury.
“Stacy is amazing,” Burtard said. Allen competed in luge against her boyfriend and has an unflagging competitive spirit, working out hours every day to develop muscle.
“She was so driven,” Burtard said. “It got me in gear, and it made me driven.”
The two have shared doctors and most recently traveled to Oklahoma for treatment.
“I think that I should be walking,” Burtard said. And it is that determination that keeps her seeking new opportunities.
“I always want to do everything,” Burtard said of various treatments, and she has had some results.
Burtard took 132 steps using a walker before Christmas 2006 and was gaining muscle, she said.
But it’s hard working a full-time job and keeping up with treatment, not to mention the financial strain of $800 for each monthly visit to a doctor in Tulsa, Okla.
Her parents and grandparents have helped out over the years, she said.
“Without them, it would have been a harder struggle,” Burtard said.
But she is grateful her family practiced a certain “tough love” and encouraged her to take charge of her life.
“They made me do things on my own,” Burtard said, including finding a job and an apartment.
Her new passion is knee-boarding behind a powerboat.
But Burtard hopes the treatment will help her be able to ride her horse better and do things she used to do, like play basketball.
“I’m really happy to be thrown into it,” Burtard said of the fundraising effort. And she hopes to board a flight to India in February.
According to Boxtel, treatments at the 20-room private facility run by Dr. Shroff mean morning and afternoon injections and intensive physical therapy. But her two months in India in summer 2007 bore fruit, she said, and she’s gained some feeling and movement in her legs.
“For 15-and-a-half years, I’ve never shown any progress and now I’m starting to,” Boxtel said.
Boxtel said had spent years working to accept her circumstances and wasn’t living fully and enjoying life.
“But now ‘hope’ is back in my vocabulary,” Boxtel said. “It’s life-changing. It’s kind of the miracle cure now.”
The three women headed to India have very different spinal injuries, Boxtel said, but all can expect some improvement.
Asked about the controversy over using human embryonic stem cells, Boxtel said: “It’s life giving life.”
Boxtel’s greatest wish is to slow dance with her boyfriend and run on the beach in her native Australia.