Wednesday 23 October 2013

Stem Cell Therapy - Blue's Experience

Our dog, Blue, has severe osteoarthritis in his elbows and his hips. Luckily, at this point, his pain is minimal. This is in no small part due to early surgical intervention during his puppyhood and the skills of his surgeon, Dr. Alan Kuzma. However, now that Blue is an older dog, I truly believe that stem cell therapy has made a significant and positive difference in his quality of life.

Blue is a lab-mastiff cross and unfortunately, he got the worst genetics traits of both breeds. He has elbow dysplasia (ununited anconeal processes) and hip dysplasia. Surgery to try to fix his elbows worked on his right side, but not on his left, and he eventually had to have another surgery to remove the bone fragment. As a consequence, that elbow is very arthritic as can be seen on Xrays. His right elbow is also arthritic but is not nearly as bad as the left. He had triple pelvic osteotomies (TPO) to correct his hip dysplasia and his hips look amazingly good.

Blue was pain free until about 2 years ago when he developed pain in his hind end. It started with yelping and favouring his right hind leg while going up the dog walk during agility, and  progressed rapidly to limping on his right hind after long walks. At the same time, he started limping for the first time on his left elbow, presumably because he was carrying more weight on that side. Blue is a very patient and stoic dog and on examining him, neither I, Dr. Lane, or Dr. Kuzma could find the source of the hind end pain.

We decided to try stem cell therapy because it seemed reasonable to assume the pain might be in his hips. I did a lot of researching about the success of stem cell therapy but at that time there wasn't a lot out there. There were more anecdotal reports that most dogs responded well. Dr. Kuzma warned me that the most severely arthritic joints often don't respond as well, which made sense, but he was hopeful that Blue's other joints would benefit.

Overall, after weighing the pros and cons, including the financial investment, we decided to go ahead with stem cell therapy.

Dr. Kuzma harvested fat from Blue's abdomen and it was sent immediately to Vet-Stem for culturing of the stem cells. Blue was a little sore from the collection as it involves making a small incision in his abdomen to collect the fat. He was back at Canada West 2 days later for injections of stem cells into each elbow, both hips, and one more given intravenously. Rehab at home included cold packing his joints, putting them through an easy range of motion, and resting until his abdominal incision had healed.

Unfortunately, we soon discovered that the pain in his hind end was not originating from his hips. His pain rapidly and significantly worsened and after many tests, including CT scan, myelogram, nerve conduction test and exploratory surgery in his spine, we still didn't have an answer. Thankfully, over time, things got better on their own, but the stress of dealing with his pain and not knowing what was causing it eclipsed any noticing of what was happening in his front end.

It is only in retrospect that I became aware of how stem cell therapy had helped his elbows.

Fast forward to today. Blue started limping a lot more on his left elbow a couple of months ago. It  made me suddenly realize that pain in this joint had not progressed at all in two years. All this time while I had been having tunnel vision about his hind end, his elbow had been quietly stable in its level of discomfort - until now.

So it was pretty easy to decide to do a second round of stem cell injections. From the beginning, Dr. Kuzma had told us that a second treatment a year or so later usually had some small beneficial effect but was usually not as dramatic as the first treatment. On the other hand, this time it would be much easier on Blue as there were extra stem cells stored at Vet-Stem. All we had to do was request they thaw and ship them to us. Dr. Kuzma injected both elbows and gave him another dose intravenously. We decided not to repeat his hips as it would mean Vet Stem would need to culture more cells ($) and also because his hips were seeming so pain-free.

Blue's response this time around is pretty incredible. Without other pain to distract me from noticing his elbow, I can see how much happier he is even just a week later. He is much farther ahead of me on walks, not just at the beginning but the whole time. He is brighter and more playful and asking for more exercise. His degree of limping late in the walk is dramatically reduced. He bounds up the stairs instead of plodding. I had a hard time believing this could be stem cells working so quickly so I asked Dr. Kuzma if it were possible. He said its what owners often tell him. Just amazing.

I think that if Blue hadn't had stem cells, considering the degree and rate of progression of pain in that elbow, at this point we might be considering euthanasia. Instead we are looking forward to another few years of minimal arthritic pain and good quality of life. We hope so; he is such a good dog that he deserves the best from us.

If you have been considering stem cell therapy, I'd encourage you to try it. We are so glad we did.

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