Can Stem Cells Save Your Game?

When knees, hips or shoulders need replacement, a Vail doctor offers an alternative.

Like most Boulderites, 61-year-old John Beeman leads an extraordinarily active life. He skis approximately 50 days a year and plays 200 rounds of golf—mostly on foot and mostly at Flatirons Golf Course, where, he jokes, he’s “an ugly 6.”

Until recently, “ugly” might have described Beeman’s knees. Old injuries and three surgeries had gutted his right ACL and MCL—“basically it’s bone on bone in there”—and 15 years ago he had reconstructive surgery on his left knee and gave up running. He would regularly ice both joints after 30,000-40,000 vertical-foot days on the slopes or after walking 18 holes with his daughter, Aly, who plays on the Boulder High golf team.

The pressure Beeman’s golf swing put on his knees also left them sore, so every November, between golf and ski seasons, Beeman would see Scott Brandt, M.D. of Denver Pain Management. He would inject Beeman’s knees with a cocktail of lubricants to reduce the friction and buy time before what Beeman says he thought would be “an inevitable knee replacement.”

Last August, Brandt left DPM to start ThriveMD, a Vail-based center for restorative and regenerative solutions to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself. For many years he had studied the potential for minimally invasive stem cell therapy to repair, restore, replace, and regenerate cells damaged by injury or normal wear. He saw Beeman as an excellent candidate for a breakthrough procedure to repair the tissue in his knees.

Beeman’s own research turned up nothing negative. The mesenchymal stem cells would be his own, not the politically controversial embryonic ones (“which are like Ferraris,” says Brandt. “Powerful but hard to control”), and they would come from a half-cup of fat cells liposucted from his abdomen. Brandt would then spin the fat cells in a centrifuge to extract and wash more than 100 million progenitor stem cells of their inflammation-producing red and white blood cells. He’d combine the stem cells with platelet rich plasma (PRP), which, the doctor says, serves “as a super-fertilizer for the cells.” Then, using live X-ray fluoroscopy, he would inject the stem-cell solution “to drive them precisely into the damaged areas of the joints, which are often the areas of most resistance and thus least likely to be treated passively.”

Beeman had Brandt treat his right knee over Thanksgiving. The entire process took two hours. He then underwent a fortnight of muscle activation to correct any imbalances or abnormal gait motions, such as incorrect loading of his hip or ankle. A month later he received a booster shot of cell-stimulating PRP.

During the Christmas holiday, Beeman skied seven consecutive days and never had to ice his knee. He’s already hoofed three-dozen pain-free golf rounds this spring.

An MRI at the end of the summer will determine if his knee is generating new tissue. As of now, it feels “better than it has in a while.” He now regrets not having both knees done at the same time. The procedure cost $8,500, but the second knee would have only run $2,500 more. Since the FDA requires adult stem cells to be implanted within 24 hours of removal, to have his left knee done, he’d have to go through the entire procedure and pay another $8,500.

Professional athletes such as Peyton Manning have received stem cell treatments for injuries. PHP treatments helped repair Tiger Woods’ knee. An alternative to joint replacement surgery, stem cell therapy can be used on any joint. Tendinitis or Achilles tendon injuries are also good responders to the treatment.

“Golfer’s elbow responds very well to this treatment,” says Brandt, who says the jury is out on back problems—the bane of many a golfer. “I haven’t seen a study for disk disease, but if the problem is in the back’s synovial joints, we can help. This isn’t a cure-all for everything—it won’t repair a torn meniscus, for example—but the results for most people can be life-changing, without the long recovery time.

Visit; 970-766-8245 for more on stem cell therapy.

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