DAVID GRANOVSKY

Jarvis Green’s Adult Stem Cell Treatment Changed His Life

In ALL ARTICLES on October 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Green’s stem-cell success story bodes well for Manning

Tim Heitman/US Presswire
Former NFL defensive lineman Jarvis Green said stem-cell therapy has changed his life.

Former NFL defensive lineman Jarvis Green’s decision to have stem-cell therapy on a torn-up knee wasn’t just about football. It was also about quality of life. And 15 months after the procedure, from both a football and life standpoint, he has a message for Peyton Manning:

Good days are ahead.

Fox Sports NFL insider and NFL Network contributor Jay Glazer reported last weekend that the Colts quarterback, who’s had three neck surgeries in 2011, including a September spinal fusion, went across the Atlantic Ocean to have the stem-cell treatment Green had done in an attempt to expedite the healing process and alleviate the associated pain. After that, it was revealed that Terrell Owens recently went to Korea to have a similar procedure.

Can Manning expect the results Green says he’s gotten? That’s unclear. “The only thing controversial about it,” said renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache, “is that it’s never been shown to work.” Dr. James Gladstone, chief of sports medicine at Mount Sinai, adds, “It may turn out in some circumstances that it’s a really good thing. In others, it may have no effect.”

For his part, Green swears the therapy worked. In 2009, his final year with the Patriots, Green had two knee surgeries. The first, which he was told was “just a scope,” took him months to recover. The second, coming during the season, took a month of games off the calendar for him. After playing out the year with New England, he bolted for Denver.

At minicamp the following June, his knee worsened to the point where he said it was “bone-on-bone.” In an effort to hide a brace and heavy bandaging, he wore sweatpants. He says he had a good few days of practice, but he knew something was wrong. And he searched for answers.

“After minicamp, I couldn’t walk up and down stairs, I couldn’t play tennis with my kids. Nothing,” Green said.

Stem-cell therapy is what he found. He went to a doctor in Bloomington, Colo., keeping all this from the Broncos. The process had doctors extracting bone marrow from his hip and harvesting it for three weeks. That substance was then injected into Green’s knee. Green was told to wear knee braces for the next 10 days.

Within two weeks, he said everything changed.

It wouldn’t be enough to save his football career. But it did give him a chance. Green passed the team’s grueling conditioning test in July, just weeks after having the procedure done, and got some pretty serious returns away from the game as well.

“The pain was gone,” Green said, adding that he plans to go to Europe to have the therapy on other areas of his body ravaged by football. “It was a tremendous difference in the pain level, my range of motion. It was amazing. I rented a house in Denver with an elevator, just to get by, and said nothing to coaches, because I was worried about getting cut.

“Two weeks later, I’m swimming and biking in the mountains. … I went to camp, didn’t miss a day of practice, ran every day, beat everyone in sprints.”

Green has no doubt on the effects of the stem-cell therapy. Conversely, in the medical community, there’s plenty of doubt.

“I can’t recommend it until I’ve seen reasonably well-done studies on it,” said ElAttrache, who did Tom Brady’s ACL surgery and has worked for a half-dozen pro sports franchises. “What I know about that one particular type of treatment is that it’s safe. I just don’t know how effective it is.”

Gladstone said, “I wouldn’t say it’s controversial. It’s experimental. The effects and benefits of it are not known yet. We don’t know whether it’s a bunch of nonsense or if it’s highly effective.”

He related it to the concept of Platelet Rich Plasma, or blood spinning, a practice that came under scrutiny because of the involvement of Anthony Gallea, the Canadian doctor who pleaded guilty to bringing unapproved drugs such as human growth hormone into the U.S. Gladstone said where the idea of blood spinning is to promote healing through the separation of white and red blood cells, the concept of stem-cell therapy is to enhance healing.

“You get cells that haven’t differentiated and haven’t moved into whatever they’re going to become, and you hope they become bone or cartilage or tendons,” he explained. “It settles into an area that’s injured, and the hope is it develops into the type of cell needed to heal that injury.”

When asked if going to Europe to have the procedure done was a sign of desperation, ElAttrache — who emphasized that he did not know the specifics of the Colts quarterback’s treatment, and suspected it could even have been the kind of plasma treatment Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal had overseas — responded that he didn’t think Manning was going out on a limb by making the trip. Rather, it was exhausting another option.

In fact, he says he could see why the plasma treatment would be tempting. “If someone tells you it’s natural, and that it’s not going to harm you or delay healing, it might be attractive for someone with a chronic issue like arthritis,” said ElAttrache.

ElAttrache added he thinks Manning has a “reasonable shot” of being available later this year, whether the treatment is effective or not. The course of the spinal fusion, the doctor says, is relatively predictable and can be expected to be effective. It’s the nerve regeneration, which would bring back the power in his right arm and hand, that is less predictable. On the low end, ElAttrache says, that part will take 3-4 months. More likely, it’ll shelve Manning for 9-12 months, making training camp in 2012 a better bet than December.

But the bottom line here is that ElAttrache sees the stem-cell therapy Manning had as highly unlikely to steady that part of it. It may help the healing process, particularly with anti-inflammatory effects, but if the regeneration happens in time for Manning to come back this year, the doctor says, it’s probably not because of that trip overseas.

Meanwhile, in Colorado and with his new construction company in North Dakota, Green says he’s living a better life because of the treatments. And his belief is that this chain of events starting with this therapy is no coincidence.

“They’re working miracles,” said Green. “I’m gonna go overseas again, because it works. I’m not 100 percent, but I’m playing football with my son. Stem-cell therapy, it does work, and it could help so many players out there.”

Manning, of course, hopes it works for him. How much could it? That seems to be very much up for debate.

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