DAVID GRANOVSKY

Stem-cell therapy shows results – El Paso Times

In VICTORIES & SUCCESS STORIES on August 9, 2009 at 6:34 pm

“They call it a really good placebo effect,” Lawrence said. “Whatever, if it’s a placebo effect, I want some more.”

By Erica Molina Johnson / El Paso Times, Posted: 08/07/2009 12:00:00 AM

Lawrence Brown III looks at the number “10” on a family laptop and tells his mother Georgina Brown what the number is as part of a daily exercise to see if his sight is improving. (Ruben R. Ramirez / El Paso Times)

EL PASO — Lawrence E. Brown III easily spotted and then picked up a bottle of sunblock a friend dropped Wednesday afternoon.

For most people, it is insignificant.

But for Lawrence, 16, who has been blind since birth, it was an exceptional moment.

For him and his family, a gamble on a Chinese stem-cell procedure to treat his blindness is beginning to pay off.

The procedure is not available in this country and is met with skepticism by many American doctors. No treatment exists for Brown’s condition, said Dr. Michael Repka, pediatric ophthalmologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Brown was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, an underdevelopment of the nerves in his eyes.

Before his family left to Qingdao, China, on June 20, his vision was little more than limited perception of light, color and shadowy masses.

He and his mother and sister spent six weeks in China so that he could undergo nine stem-cell transfusions intended to stimulate the growth of his optic nerves.

The cells were delivered intravenously on his arm or injected directly into his spine. He received acupuncture and electric wave therapy to help stimulate the cells’ work.

“I didn’t expect for it to go as far as it has, and I’m just wondering what the heck is going to happen in the next nine months,” Lawrence said Wednesday.

He jokes that he is part Chinese now that he has received the transfusions.

Doctors in China told him the stem cells would continue to do their work over the next nine to 12 months. He is exercising and taking vitamins to help the umbilical stem cells have the greatest effect possible.”Every day for the next year, every time I wake up, I wonder if something new is going to happen,” Law rence said. “Every day holds a new possibility.”

To measure his progress, Georgina A. Brown shows her son flashcards.

On one card, Lawrence saw six blobs a few weeks ago. Now, he can see six circles.

On another card, a nearly 7-inch-tall letter L that he first saw in China now seems a little too big when held about seven inches from his face.

He can now make out a nearly 5-inch-tall letter B from about the same distance on a computer screen.

His mom quizzes him often with the cards or other objects that happen to be around.

Lawrence has always read in Braille and is just starting to learn the letters by sight.

He is spotting colors more easily and is beginning to discern the different textures and angles of objects.

And his nystagmus, or rapid and involuntary eye movements, has lessened dramatically.

“I didn’t expect this (all improvements), but I hoped for it,” he said.

He hasn’t yet been evaluated by a doctor to gauge his improvement, but he said he didn’t need the professional confirmation to know the procedure is working.

The Browns said they’re not optimistic that Lawrence’s local doctor will declare the procedure a success.

“There’s a running joke (in China) with the staff. They call it a really good placebo effect,” Lawrence said. “Whatever, if it’s a placebo effect, I want some more.”

While in China, they tried to make the most of the new cultural experience.

With the help of a translator or simply through hand movements reminiscent of a game of charades, the family navigated their way through markets and parks and visited a temple, zoo and aquarium.

They shied away from eating much meat because it often appeared uncovered and not refrigerated at neighborhood markets.

At street markets, they saw displays of animal internal organs, roasted dog heads, bugs on skewers and stinky durian fruits.

Georgina Brown said it was much like being on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Re servations” television show that appears on the Travel Channel.

“We were going to eat bugs, but I couldn’t do it,” Lawrence said.

Georgina Brown said she was excited that her family could have that cultural experience.

“I think it gave them a different outlook on the culture itself to know how much we have here and how fortunate we are,” she said.

They learned a little more about the world than many visitors to China by socializing with other families at the hospital who traveled there from countries such as Libya, Switzerland, Ireland, England and Romania.

“This experience also gave my children an experience to see all the different children. There are children with SMA (spinal muscular atrophy). Children who can’t see, can’t talk, can’t walk.”

The Brown family returned from China on July 31. Lawrence has spent all day every day this week at band practice at El Paso High School. He will start his senior year of high school there in two weeks.

Meanwhile, the family is looking for someone to continue his acupuncture treatments in El Paso. They’re also in the hunt for a power converter that will allow them to plug Lawrence’s electric wave therapy machine into American power outlets.

He is hopeful that he can return to China next summer to undergo another round of stem-cell transfusions.

“There is nothing that I’m going to go through that I can’t handle,” Lawrence said. “You have to look at life that way, or else you can just sit and cry in a corner.”

via Stem-cell therapy shows results – El Paso Times.

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