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Ball State Student Regains Sensation After Stem Cell Therapy

By Kwame Micah, BSU Daily News, March 28, 2007

When you hear about an award-winning body builder, a mini-marathon winner, and an intramural basketball player, an image of an out standing athlete comes to mind. But how about an outstanding athlete who cannot walk? The 20-year-old Jeff, can claim all of the aforementioned accolades, but there is just one thing; his legs are paralyzed. Now, he is as mentally and physically strong as ever after a car accident left him without the use of his legs two years ago. Jeff plans to attend medical school and become a radiologist. He is currently a sophomore at Ball State University and is majoring in chemistry and exercise science.

"I really don't want to die like this." - Jeff

In order to meet his curfew, Jeff left his friends house at midnight on May 21st, 2005. He had about 10 minutes to get back to his parents home in Selma, and his friend lived near the YMCA in Northwest Muncie. He drove in the middle of the narrow back roads, something he did on most nights. The drive home was always uneventful, but not this time. Jeff saw another car coming from the opposite direction as he reached the peak of a hill.

"I swerved off the road to the right and then tried to correct to get back on the road, but I over-corrected and it sent my car over off to the other side into some trees," he said.

With his car stopped, his cell phone had fallen to the passenger side floor. As Jeff reached over for it so he could call for help, he realized that he couldn’t move his legs. He was finally able to call his parents after using his arms to crawl over to the passenger side.

"I thought Jeff was just calling to say he would be a couple minutes late," Jeff's mother, Mary said.

Jeff said he didn’t have the strength to dial another phone number when his father Steve told him to call 911.

His parents were able to call for paramedics when they reached Jeff and the site of the accident.

"I just kept praying, 'Let him live,' so I knew he wouldn't die," his mother said. "I just knew God wasn't going to take him that night."

Extracting Jeff from his vehicle took over 45 minutes. Doctors operated on the broken vertebrae at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis after he was finally delivered by paramedics.

Mary’s suspicions were confirmed by MRI’s taken at the hospital. When Jeff told he that he couldn’t move his legs, she knew her son was paralyzed.

"I kept thinking, 'My son won't be walking again,'" she said.

"What am I going to do for the rest of my life?" – Jeff

His dreams to attend the Air Force Academy were shattered. Jeff was in despair after he returned home following his five week stay at Methodist Hospital. He resolved to not let his car accident leave him powerless to walk, and with the help of his friends, was able to stay positive.

When he was at an emotional low his former workout partner Cameron tried to boost him up.

"We tried to help him out and push him to not let it get to him," Cameron said.

Cameron said that the Selma community was inspired by Jeff’s attitude.

"I [didn't] want to be one of those sickly looking pale people," Jeff said.

While his father did research on the internet in search of other medical options for him, Jeff worked to become a functional paraplegic by starting a physical therapy program.

A professor from Northwestern University found a Russian clinic that was using stem cell therapy to conduct research. The clinic was searching for human subjects so the professor e-mailed Steve about it. The family decided to go ahead with the treatment even though they were worried about the potential risks.

"I was all for it," Jeff said. "I didn't expect it to be perfect or be [the] cure."

A three week visit to Russia began in February 2006 for Jeff and his family. Neupogen was injected into his bloodstream to being. The drug stimulates red blood cell growth. His blood was then harvested five days later and the stem cells were separated by a machine. At that point, with viable treatment materials available, the stem cells were then injected into his spinal cord.

"It's just so unfortunate in the United States there is such ... negativity towards stem cells," Steve said.

Jeff began to regain feeling in his hips and lower abdominal area following the stem cell injections. He also only sweated from his upper body after the accident, but he noticed perspiration on his legs after the procedure.

The medicine, therapy, and treatment for Jeff runs about $70,000 per year. His family has taken loans to cover the cost, but his parents’ health insurance covers some of the cost. Jeff and his mother have made four trips to Moscow in the past year.

Doctors believe that the stem cells have helped Jeff’s brain re-establish a connection with his lower body. But the final effects are still to be determined.

"I'm as lucky as anyone in a wheelchair can be." – Jeff

Jeff is as independent as ever despite being bound to a wheelchair. He works out on a specialized cardiovascular exercise machine at home and lifts weights at Studio 22 Private Fitness in Muncie in order to remain physically active. He regained some mobility in his lower abs after the stem cell treatment and this has made it easier for him to work out.

Even after the accident he has maintained a consistent workout schedule. He asked his parents for a weightlifting bench in seventh grade since he was being picked on in middle school for being scrawny. He received one that Christmas and has used it ever since.

"He likes to be able to [function] on his own, and when he can't, it bothers him," Zach, an assistant personal trainer at Studio 22, said.

Jeff entered an October 2006 bodybuilding competition after being encouraged by Brad who owned Studio 22. Brad noticed Jeff’s strong work ethic and muscular build. He ended up winning the title of Mr. USA Wheelchair Division Champion.

At he Wheelchair Nationals on March 10th, the won second place, and he would have been able to compete professionally if he had finished first.

Jeff has achieved success in academics as well as bodybuilding. He earned a 3.95 GPA at Wapahani High School in Selma which based on his academic performance earned him a Presidential scholarship.

A level of normalcy is Jeff’s desire, and through it all, that is what he tries to accomplish at the end of the day. He enjoys reading articles on off-road vehicles, riding four wheelers with his friends, and watching the show “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel. He used to wonder if he could have prevented the accident by replaying the event over and over in his head, but he now says he wouldn’t have it any other way. He worked to make buildings on the Ball State campus more handicap accessible, made new friends, and met his girlfriend Kristina all since the accident. And on April 19th, he will attend the Mr. and Ms. Ball State Bodybuilding Competition as a guest poser.

Jeff says he doesn’t mind it when his friends jokingly antagonize him for moving slowly, and that he just wants to be treated as a person with full physical capabilities.

"I do think I am going to walk again," Jeff said. 'I don't know if it's going to be a year from now or ten years from now, but I will walk again."


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