A growing business across the border is bringing hope to some folks who need it, but U.S. doctors say they could be taking their lives into their own hands.
People come to the area for a treatment not always readily available to them in the U.S. Lew Hollander from Oregon is one of those people. He comes for the cutting edge technology of umbilical cord stem cell implants.
"Of course, as you get older, everything is not working as well as it used to," Hollander said. "You may never really know but I think that I see better, I hear better and I think I think better. Now I think better."
The 78-year-old says he may not live longer, but he's convinced the quality of his life has been improved.
Doctor Omar Gonzalez says most of his patients are Americans, but they come here from all over the world.
Camelia Spinu traveled with her friends all the way from Romania. She's a parapalegic.
The procedure is an implantation with human placenta tissue after the baby is born; not to be confused with embryonic stem cells where the cells are taken from an unborn child.
Dr. Gonzalez says he sees positive results from the umbilical cord cell implants and that these blood-making stem cells are helping Spinu and others.
"She gained some functions in the legs; they were not moving at all," said Dr. Gonzalez.
Spinu says she's convinced the therapy makes her feel stronger and younger.
However, we talked to Dr. Todd Shenkenberg, an oncologist from Harlingen.
"We certainly have had patients from the Rio Grande Valley go across the border to do that, but there's no evidence that does anything beneficial to the patient," said Shenkenberg.
Shenkenberg tells NEWSCHANNEL 5 that alternative clinics in Mexico do not maintain the same standards or regulations as the ones in the United States. He says the psychological impact and low prices are a big draw.
Costs in Mexico range from $500 to $10,000.
Stem cell transplants are happening in the United States for cancer and blood disorder patients. Shenkenberg says people who are not suffering from diseases like these and who just want to feel better should not take the risks.
Shenkenberg says clinical trials are just beginning here, but it could be years before it becomes common practice.