- Updated July 7, 2017
The paper made a crinkling sound as I eased onto my back and waited for the doctor to come in. My heart raced in anticipation, I’d never been this excited to have a medical procedure! I was about to begin stem cell treatment and I couldn’t wait!
What it was like
I’d been experiencing incredible pain in both of my knees for the past seven years. That pain impacted every aspect of my life. I could barely walk any distance without having to rest, navigate stairs, or sleep through the night. All the doctors I’d seen told me both of my knees were “bone-on-bone” and needed replacing. They said it was my only hope of any restored function and relief of the debilitating pain.
I spent my early adulthood, skiing and hiking in the mountain communities of Vail and North Lake Tahoe.
I was in my “happy place” when I was exploring mountaintops, cooking, gardening, and remodeling or decorating my home, but my ability to enjoy all of those pursuits had been greatly diminished by osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a common eventuality of aging, especially for those of us who’ve been active all of our lives.
According to WebMD, “Osteoarthritis, commonly known as wear and tear arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis. It is associated with a breakdown of cartilage in joints and can occur in almost any joint in the body. It commonly occurs in the weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees, and spine.”
In addition to suffering from knee pain, osteoarthritis at the base of my thumbs now made the most simple daily tasks incredibly painful.
I’ve always been concerned about what I put into and onto my body, so removing the knees I’d been born with and replacing them with a man-made device was something I had no interest in doing.
I’d begun to resign myself to a sedentary life in constant pain, but that’s when I ran into my friend while out to dinner in Costa Rica…
I learn about stem cell treatment
Donna was three weeks out from having bone marrow stem cell treatment done in her knee. She said her knee pain was decreasing daily. They’d extracted bone marrow stem cells from her hip a few weeks before her procedure, then after a waiting period, she returned to have them injected into her knee.
The initial appointment
I returned home and learned that doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center in Atlanta offered stem cell treatment, so I made an appointment. Thankfully, my insurance company considered a this appointment a “second opinion,” and agreed to cover it.
During my first appointment, Dr. Kenneth Mautner performed an examination, and spent time collecting history from me. He then said I’d be a good candidate for stem cell treatment and recommended adipose (fat) stem cell therapy to help my knee pain. He told me they’d had greater success with the adipose stem cell treatment for patients with knee and shoulder issues. He said the adipose stem cells tend to stay where they’re injected, providing a better chance of success and pain relief in those areas.
Dr. Mautner said the entire process would be completed in one visit, and unless I had an issue after treatment, I would not have to return to his office. This is because they harvest and inject the adipose stem cells during a single visit unlike treatment with bone marrow stem cells, where the patient has to return weeks later to have their stem cells injected back into their body.
This treatment is not experimental, and there is an increasing amount of patient data showing encouraging and impressive levels of success with stem cell therapy. Unfortunately, stem cell procedures are being performed by many clinics without the credentials and the reputation of a hospital like Emory, so insurance companies are not currently covering this type of stem cell treatment.
I considered the following when deciding if I would have stem cell treatment:
- I knew that once my original equipment (knees) were removed, there’d be no going back, and I’d be dependent on a man-made device that has a lifespan of 10-20 on average, then what? I’m only in my fifties!
- I’d had three separate back fusion surgeries in the early 1990’s, so I knew the impact and the extensive recovery time that kind of invasive surgery requires. That was something I was unwilling to go through again.
- The cost of a knee replacement in the U.S. runs (approximately) $16,500 – $33,000 across geographic areas. This meant that even with insurance, I’d still be responsible for at least $5,000 out-of-pocket per knee, which was the same amount I’d spend on stem cell injection treatment in both of my knees.
I was still not quite ready to schedule my appointment, because $5,000 is five thousand dollars! But then I had the opportunity to talk to a 50-ish patient of Dr. Mautner’s who had the treatment done eight months earlier. He was ecstatic with the results of his stem cell injections.
He said he was pain-free and animatedly told me he could now do things he hadn’t been able to do for years, like hiking and jumping. I could hear the passion and true joy in his voice as he described his active lifestyle. He kindly answered the questions I had and encouraged me to stay in touch after my treatment, so we could compare notes and discuss our progress in the future.
I thanked him profusely, ended our call, and decided to go ahead with the procedure.
The day of the procedure
I arrived at the The Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center the morning of my procedure, paid the fee, and was soon ushered into the exam room where Dr. Mautner would performed the adipose stem cell harvest (liposuction.)
Once the adipose stem cells were harvested, his assistant ran the material through a device that “washed” the stem cells and reduced them down to their essence. The system they used for my treatment is made by Lipogems© About 30 minutes later, they moved me into another room where, with the help of ultrasound imaging, Dr. Mautner injected my stem cells into both my knees and at the base of my thumbs.
A week before my procedure, I had asked Dr Mautner if he’d be willing to inject some of the stem cells into the base of my thumbs. He said that he hadn’t done many injections into that area, but said it could help me. He did let me know that the space he’d be injecting into was small, so the injections might be a little uncomfortable, but I was so desperate to finally get relief, I told him “No problem!” Today I can’t even recall the brief discomfort I experienced as he injected the stem cells into my thumbs.
I walked out of the clinic, pain free as my husband watched in amazement! He drove me home, and as instructed, I tried to stay off my feet as much as possible for a couple of weeks. I experienced a little discomfort the first couple of days, but a Tylenol tablet easily relieved it. Happily, after the first two days, I never needed any more pain relief medicine.
Gradually I began walking a little each day and doing exercises to help strengthen the muscles around my knees.
Dr Mautner recommended taking a few natural supplements to help support the stem cells during the first month after treatment, but told me continuing them after that time would be my choice. I wanted to give my stem cells every advantage, so I continued the supplements for a few months, avoided chemicals by “eating cleanly,” and used only chemical-free topical products for months after my procedure.
What it’s like now
It’s been a year since I had my stem cell treatment and I can absolutely say that my constant knee pain is a distant memory. I still have very occasional minor twinges in my knees if I’m not using good body mechanics, but nothing like the excruciating pain I used to experience all day, every day.
If I am sedentary and don’t move around much for a period of time, my knees may stiffen up a little, but the stiffness disappears within seconds, and I’m off and running!
The injections into my thumbs have also been a complete success. I have total pain relief at the base of my thumbs and have resumed using my hands without restrictions!
I feel like I’ve been given a great gift. Will this last forever? I don’t know, but I’m doing yoga, hiking, gardening, and enjoying life to the fullest without pain or restrictions. I feel like a new woman and wouldn’t hesitate to have more stem cell treatments in the future.
Pura Vida, Penny