Steve was 55 years old, worked full-time as a heavy equipment operator and bridge foreman and farmed in his spare time. His vision had been deteriorating over time, but he blamed it on age and probable cataracts. After a scary instance of getting lost while driving after dark, he went to the doctor with the expectation of having cataract surgery and "fixing" his vision. The doctor told him it wasn’t cataracts at all, but Retinitis Pigmentosa and that he would probably go blind. We wanted a 2nd opinion and saw a specialist recommend by our family physician. He confirmed the first diagnosis and encouraged us to see a 3rd specialist who could determine if the RP that Steve had was hereditary – something that was a big concern for us because of our children and grandchildren. After a full day of tests it was decided that Steve should no longer drive due to his very limited peripheral vision and that our children and grandchildren would not be able to inherit the RP. They also took a skin sample and told us they were working on a stem cell procedure, but that it would be 5-7 years before they were ready to use it on humans. The doctors recommended that he quit working immediately and apply for disability.
We weren’t ready to give up that easily, so we "Googled" stem cell therapy for Retinitis Pigmentosa. We came across several sites that claimed they could help RP, but wouldn't give us specifics about treatment, etc. until we came upon ProgenCell. They were able to answer our questions about RP - not cancer or anti-aging. We especially like the fact that they used the patient’s own stem cells in the procedure. The prospect of going to Mexico was a little scary, but with Mimi’s phone calls and Elias’ videos we felt much better about the whole process. By this time Steve’s vision had deteriorated significantly and we felt we had nothing to lose – we scheduled his first treatment in April 2011.
At the time of Steve’s first treatment his vision had narrowed to the point of looking through a large drinking straw. He couldn’t read without using a magnifier in addition to his glasses and even though he couldn't see in the dark, bright lights bothered his eyes, too.
We flew into San Diego where we were met by Armando, who drove us to our hotel. He picked us up again the next morning to take us across the border to the ProgenCell clinic. The clinic is a very clean, modern facility only minutes across the border. The staff is very caring and professional, we felt at ease immediately.
After an initial consultation with the doctor, Steve was prepped for the procedure. He was awake for the entire thing, talking to the doctors as they explained what they were doing. The doctors extracted bone marrow from his right hip and separated the stem cells from the bone marrow. With a very fine, pliable needle they injected stem cells around each eye and put the remaining stem cell solution in an IV. His hip was very sore from removing the bone marrow, but much to his surprise he didn’t even feel the injections around his eyes. After resting and having a small snack and drink, we went back to the hotel, returning home the following day.
Both of Steve’s eyes were red and bloodshot and after a few hours he had two black eyes, but still had no pain in or around his eyes. The site of the bone marrow extraction hurt for a few weeks. (During his 2nd treatment the marrow was taken from his other hip and he had no pain at all) His eyes were extremely sensitive to light, causing him to wear dark glasses whenever he went outside and occasionally pulling the drapes on sunny days for the first few weeks.
After a few weeks, his peripheral vision started to improve a little, but the biggest improvement came about 2 months after the treatment. His vision was much clearer, he no longer needed the magnifier to read and his peripheral vision had expanded to an area the size of a dinner plate. Although he only has a restricted license now, he is once again comfortable driving close to home, something he had quit doing prior to the procedure in April. He is also able to work on the farm again and to play basketball with our grandchildren.
We returned to San Diego and Tijuana in August for his second treatment. Although the improvement this time wasn’t nearly as noticeable, we are looking forward to a third procedure in a few weeks.
Going into this, we were hoping to at least stop the progression of the RP. We have been very pleased with the success so far – not only has the disease been stopped, a good deal of his vision has returned.
Steve and Cyndi S
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