Five years ago Art Rechlo’s life began to change.
Diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia in 2007 the disease began to strip away the person he was. Over the next seven years his vibrant and active life spent golfing, bowling and travelling was ravaged. Rechlo was eventually confined to a wheelchair and could no longer eat without help.
Vicky, Art’s wife, bore the pain of watching her husband’s condition progress and seeing the man she loved being slowly taken by the disease. Understandably, there came a point where she could no longer stand by and watch and she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Taking a page from hockey legend Gordie Howe’s story, Vicky researched stem cell treatments after reading an article highlighting the success Howe experienced treating his own battle with dementia.
Armed with that information she booked Art into a treatment program in Mexico. At a cost of $19,000 – a small price to pay to try and save a loved one’s life – Art underwent stem cell treatment and, according to Vicky and the doctors, within hours he was responding. Within days he was walking and eating on his own.
While this story can almost be described as miraculous, we can’t help but urge caution to others who might read it and be thinking of following in Art’s footsteps.
Did it work for him? Despite the evidence, the answer is maybe. Timothy Caulfield, a health law researcher at the University of Alberta, told the Gazette that this treatment and technology is untested and unproven. While there have been success stories, Caulfield says the results are all based on testimonials and not evidence or scientific review.
It is not just a matter of percentages either. Some might see the treatment as a roll of the dice and hope for the best, thinking the worst that can happen is a condition does not change. Unfortunately, that might not be the case. Untested treatments inherently come with risks such as infection, as Caulfield said.
We hope that more treatments become available in Canada as the research improves to support them with scientific evidence. Facilitating that was a 2006 breakthrough by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka, who discovered a way to turn adult cells back into stem cells. The breakthrough put research back on track after a ban was implemented in 2001 in the United States due to the utilizing of embryonic cells, which were destroyed in the process. Yamanaka’s research allowed scientists to continue their experiments without the controversy.
While Caulfield argues against risking such treatment, he realizes people in situations such as the Rechlos might be willing to take the risk. Like him, we urge anyone thinking about it to do the homework first and ensure it is the right choice.