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Paralyzed Teen Traveling to Russia for Stem Cells

By Stefanie White, McKinney Courier-Gazette, March 11, 2007

When Tonya graduated from McKinney North High School two years ago, her entire life was altered. But it wasn’t because of her diploma, it was because of a car accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down.

“The driver of my car was intoxicated and ran a stop sign,” Tonya said. “Just at that moment, an 18-wheeler hit me on the passenger side.”

Her treatment has not been approved for use in the United States, so she must go overseas for stem cell treatment. Tonya and her family have been raising money over the past year through numerous fundraisers to pay for the expense.

Now 19, Tonya will be departing for Moscow, Russia, where she will undergo stem cell therapy. Her life is set to transform again after some generous donations and several fundraisers.

“I don't even really know what to say,” Tonya said. “I never expected in the beginning to raise this much.”

A family in Rowlett went to the Russian clinic for stem cell treatment and that is where Tonya’s family learned of the potential alternative.

Tonya’s stem cells will be derived from her own blood and injected into her spinal cord. This will ensure that there will be no immune rejection issues, and will also be an ethical form of stem cell treatment.

Tonya will need to go back to the clinic every three or four months for follow-up treatments, as the entire treatment process will take two years. Initially, she will have to spend $26,000 for the stem cell injections, but subsequent visits and injections will be $11,000 each.

The cost of the first trip was raised by the family alone. But the additional trips to Moscow will be paid for by the people who donated so generously.

“It's just amazing,” Tonya said.

The accident changed the life of Tonya’s mother as well. Nelda, has taken care of her daughter on a daily basis and is also officially her daughter’s caregiver now.

“I'm the caregiver that lasted the longest,” Nelda said.

Nelda was surprised to see Tonya traveling to Moscow for treatment so soon. She was sure that the funds could be raised, but was surprised by how quickly they were able to do it.

“I didn't think we'd do it in a year but I knew we were going to do it,” Nelda said. “It's here before you know and I'm excited about it.”

Nelda thinks that her daughter will get some movement and feeling back in her legs following the treatment, but says that she is still a bit unsure of what may come.

“Anything she gets back is a blessing,” Nelda said.

Tonya says that she would love to be able to use her hands again but has no expectations.

“I hate when my boyfriend wants to hold my hand and I can't open my hand,” Tonya said.

She is most thankful that she simply has the opportunity to get the treatment.

Her boyfriend Billy has been staying by her side and has helped to keep Tonya’s spirits up.

“I don't think I could have done this without my boyfriend,” Tonya said. “He's really helped lift my spirits.”

She is anxious about traveling to Russia, especially since she will only have one translator available to assist her with the language barrier. But aside from any other nervous feelings, she is keeping faith that she will be able to walk once again.

“I have a strong belief that I will,” she said.


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