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Sight Restored! Stem Cell Therapy Returns Vision to Legally Blind Man

By Andrew Mackie, Hickory Daily Record, June 3, 2005

Having the ability to see a crumpled piece of paper on the sidewalk or watching cars drive by on the freeway is not considered to be out of the ordinary for most people. We take the ability for granted in some respects. After all, it is just a piece of trash or one of the millions of cars that are on the road every second of every day. But for Greg McLaughlin, these seemingly insignificant things are a reason for excitement.

After years of living with foggy colors and blurred shapes, Greg can see clearly.

He was unable to read or drive a car four years ago. But his outlook changed, quite literally, due to stem cell therapy. He can now see with almost perfect vision.

In 2002, using stem cells from umbilical cord blood and no embryonic stem cells, Greg, 48, began stem cell therapy.

His strengthened eye was primed for surgery after one year. Then in June of 2003, he underwent his first corneal transplant.

The morning of his surgery he was unable to read even a single word. That very afternoon, he was reading a magazine for the first time in 20 years.

"I never thought I would get this much vision back," McLaughlin said. "It's like the difference between a murky lake and a crystal clear swimming pool."

At the age of 3, an allergic reaction to an antibiotic drug damaged Greg’s eyes. The outer layers of his eyes as well as mucus membranes throughout his entire body were destroyed by his condition, Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

His eyesight gradually diminished and after a failed corneal transplant in 1983, his right eye was completely removed. Greg was legally blind in his left eye by 1988 at the age of 31.

His vision was limited to colors and shapes seven years after that.

"I really didn't have a choice or an option to see without the stem cell transplant," he said.

His eyesight remains uncertain to this day due to the severity of his condition.

He must constantly use saline eye drops since he has virtually no immune system in his eyes or tear ducts. 50 small saline bottles are emptied out this way daily. Greg fears infection.

He put 29,000 miles on his car last year out of necessity. He visits his eye surgeon in Cincinnati monthly, and another eye specialist in Asheville at least one a week.

Greg says the rewards are worth it in spite of the difficulty.

Many people suffering with eye problems due to manufacturing accidents might benefit from stem cell therapy says Greg. Many in the Hickory region alone.

To determine their possible candidacy for stem cell therapy, Greg urges them to contact their ophthalmologist.

Greg would like more attention for umbilical cord research and he does not support controversial embryonic stem cell research, which involves human fetuses.

"I would hope people would realize it's not about killing embryos to get stem cells," McLaughlin said. "There is a lot more to it. There has to be people out there that don't have a clue this can be done."


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