By Ronnie Thomas, The Decatur Daily, Ala.
Jul. 13–SOMERVILLE — Birthdays come and go, and there comes a time you’d just as soon not have a reminder.
Pam McKee of Somerville isn’t likely to forget her 46th on June 18. She got one of her best gifts ever, a phone call that her quadriplegic son was approved for treatment closer to home.
The one-hour, $30,000 procedure at a clinic in the Dominican Republic will not involve the extensive stay that a planned trip for treatments in China would have required. The family anticipates even greater results.
Skylar Holmes, 20, suffered spinal cord injuries Sept. 29 when his pickup hit a culvert on Union Hill Road and flipped. The wreck paralyzed him from his neck down.
McKee said there were too many obstacles to reach the clinic in Shenyang City, China, previously set for May, where he would have undergone stem cell injections and therapy for a month.
Technicians take the stem cells from umbilical cords of healthy babies.
McKee said traveling to the airport, flying time and expense were too much to overcome.
“We faced a four-hour drive to Atlanta and a 14-hour direct flight to China,” she said. “To avoid pressure sores, Skylar has to do weight shifts every 30 minutes, reclining back and sitting up. You can’t do that in a regular seat on an airplane, and there was $4,000 difference in ticket prices between coach and business class. We looked for alternatives.”
The breakthrough came after she had spoken to her doctor and his nurse in Huntsville. Several weeks later, the nurse faxed McKee an article about Dr. William C. Rader, medical director for Medra Inc.
He transplants human fetal stem cells into a patient, usually intravenously.
According to his Web site, the fetal stem cell “searches out, detects and then attempts to repair any damage or deficiency discovered, as well as releases growth factors, which stimulate the body’s own repair mechanisms.”
Rader developed the principles of the treatment program at the Betty Ford Recovery Center. He opened the first HIV program in Latin America and shifted to fetal stem cell research in 1994.
He spent a year learning the process in Eastern Europe and China.
Since then he claims to have treated more than 1,000 patients, including children and adults suffering many of mankind’s most devastating diseases.
“I know that fetal stem cell transplants are a very controversial issue,” McKee said. “However, we were given this situation, and I think any parent will always choose what’s best for their child. That is what I am doing.”
McKee recalled the day that she learned Holmes had been accepted.
“What a joy it was,” said
McKee. “This process has taken months, and the first time we tried, they didn’t accept us. They were only doing incomplete quadriplegics at the time, and Skylar is considered complete.”
He returned to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where he had spent three months after the accident, and began using different equipment.
After a week, doctors did an assessment and found some improvement. She reported his status to Medra.
In addition to the clinic in Tunta Cana, Dominican Republic, Medra has offices and laboratories in California, Germany and the Republic of Georgia, in the former Soviet Union.
“Dr. Rader travels to the clinic to do the procedures on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays,” McKee said. “We will depart Birmingham on Wednesday, July 23, a flight that will take just over six hours. Skylar will have the procedure Friday and we return home Sunday.”
McKee said she moved the schedule ahead one day to alleviate flight delays.
“As I’ve told US Airways, a flight delay could be a $30,000 mistake,” she said.
McKee’s niece, Jacqueline Mann, and her husband, Josh Mann, will accompany them. Jacqueline Mann works at Open Biosystems in Huntsville and is familiar with the process Holmes faces.
Her company helps investigators unlock the functions of human genes and their relationships to normal and disease development.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Holmes said of the trip and the chance at a different type of therapy. “It’s supposed to be better than what China offered, and I’m for trying anything that will give me improvement.”
When he returns, he will enter Lakeshore Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham for occupational and physical therapy.
Fundraisers will continue for Holmes’ medical bills. His aunt, Terri Holmes of Decatur, is handling a cookbook project with proceeds going to the Skylar Holmes Fund.
“We’re publishing recipes provided by family and friends,” she said. “The books are $12, and people can pre-order by phoning me at 584-6880.”
Terri Holmes adds another twist to her nephew’s trip, which she hopes will be a good omen.
“The day he’s slated for the treatment is my birthday,” she said.
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Copyright (c) 2008, The Decatur Daily, Ala.
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