November 14, 2008

Week 3 Update from Costa Rica

I am still in San Jose, Costa Rica. I have been resting and meeting new people and sightseeing just a little between the stem cell procedure and daily physical therapy.

I have been here for 19 days. I have had a "mini lipo" surgery to extract my own stem cells from my fat tissue. I have had 5 intrathecal spinal injections of adult stem cells that are from donated umbilical cord. I have had 9 sessions of physical therapy. I will have 3 more spinal injections, 5 more physical therapy sessions, and an infusion of my own stem cells before I head back to San Diego November 22.

I am still so extremely impressed with the level of health care here in Costa Rica. I had to have some more blood drawn last Monday. The blood that they drew will be separated and then the plasma from my blood will have the stem cells taken from the donated umbilical cord put into it. That is how they deliver the stem cells into me through the spinal injection. Dr. Tomas from ICM drew the blood herself. She found my vein with absolutely no problem!

I think my healthcare in the US is good, but I cannot even tell you how many times I have had the nurses and lab techs stick me one and two and three or more times to draw just a little blood. I have been bruised and they have trouble finding my veins more times than not. I was expecting the same here, but that has not been the case - yay!

Dr. Afonso specializes in Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine. He is a doctor at CIMA Hospital here in San Jose, Costa Rica. He did his residency at the University of Miami Jackson - Memorial Medical Center. He is the doctor who does the spinal injections and WOW, is he smooth. The injections only take a few minutes. I change into a hospital gown. Anyone in the treatment area with you has to wear a mask and hair cap.

The doctor sterilizes my back with an iodine and alcohol mixture where he is going to inject. He waits for the area to completely dry. I am sitting on the side of a hospital gurney at this point. I bend over towards my knees so that my vertebra separates. He pushes with a little pressure, and then there is a little bee sting feeling. The doctor sees spinal fluid and I then look at the clear vial containing the stem cells and my plasma. I verify my name (my name is printed on the vial) and then he injects with the long long long thin needle. Wallah, I am done! Then I change, lie flat for 15 minutes and head back to the apartment hotel to lie flat for 4 more hours. This diminishes the chances of getting the dreaded spinal tap headache.

As I have said in earlier posts, I am cautious in reporting my progress. I would hate to create false hope for those who are desperately seeking for that "miracle cure all".  Like any solid treatment, it is going to take time to really know all of the benefits.

As of today, I can report that I have a slight new sensation in my fingertips. My grip is stronger than it was before my first stem cell injection. I walked a straight line yesterday at physical therapy, heel - toe - heel - toe, something I have not been able to ever do in my Neurologist's office since I was diagnosed. I also have a new sensation of feeling in my feet and I have not had an incident of incontinence since starting the treatment.

This morning I was so excited. I could FEEL my socks. Unless you have had numbness, you could never really fully understand what this means It made me want to slide across our tile floors like Tom Cruise in Risky Business - hehe.

I am tired and my back aches. My stomach itches inside from the "mini lipo" surgery. My abdomen is still a little black and blue. My left leg was a little weak after the 5th spinal injection. I get a slight headache after each injection. I wasn't hungry at all the first week, and now I am starving. I wasn't able to walk all the way down to the bottom of some waterfalls we went to see last weekend, but I still got to see some beautiful butterflies, birds, and monkeys.

I'm off to the hospital in 15 minutes for an hour of physical therapy. We may check out the local Outback Steakhouse nearby for lunch. Then I will have my 6th spinal injection this afternoon at 2:30 pm.

That's the good and bad to this point. I will update more as it all happens.
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