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Carolyn Hastings

Carolyn Hastings

Patient Update

Carolyn Hastings sent us this fascinating followup piece written 9 months after the stem cell procedure she had performed on her knee by Dr. Paul Handleman here at Health Link Medical Center.


By Carolyn Hastings

I am living proof! I admit to being a little bit of a risk-taker, but it has always served me well. I had Radial Keratotomy performed when I knew no one who had. It has been so long ago that unless you’re my age you probably haven’t even heard of it. RK was the precursor to Laser Eye Surgery. I talked a friend into having it done the same day, so I wouldn’t be alone. What can I say, a few minutes in surgery and I was 20/20! So, here I am again, living proof!

It’s funny how fearful we can be of the unknown, yet all around us limits are being stretched. I live with my phone in one hand and my iPad in the other. I read on Facebook about drones and rifles that shoot around corners. My “real” camera sits on the shelf gathering dust. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t jump out of perfectly good airplanes or ski off mountains that I can’t get to without a helicopter but that may be because I’m a little old for that kind of stuff!

My age brought me to why I’m writing this story. A few months ago I had Stem Cell Therapy to rebuild the cartilage in my knee, but let me back up a little. Five years ago I had a Total Knee Replacement done on my right knee. I was scheduled to have my left knee replaced within a few months as well. I know that everyone has a little different outcome to Total Knee Replacements but mine was tough, tough enough that I immediately cancelled my second surgery and started looking for an alternative. That’s probably where this story should have begun. I looked and I looked, but to no avail. The Orthopedic world was working on it but to me it felt like more of the same. I talked to everyone that would talk to me. Almost everyone I spoke with was desperately trying to affirm their decision for having the surgery, but if you caught them in an honest moment, many had issues. As I look back, I truly don’t remember any of the doctors explaining the literal brutality of the surgery. If they did, it would probably dramatically diminish the number of surgeries they perform. They don’t talk much about the fact that it is virtually impossible to kneel on a metal knee. I never realized how much I would miss that simple act.

About four years into my quest for an alternative, a friend of mine mentioned someone she knew who had gone the stem cell route. Afterwards, I couldn’t even remember who told me but Google Search became my best friend! My research kept me awake until the wee hours of the morning many nights. I was learning about the amazing world of stem cells.

There were articles from around the world and right in my own backyard. There were high profile people who had seen amazing results. Governor Rick Perry had a stem cell procedure done on his back while campaigning for President. Professional athletes were back on the field in record time after procedures on knees, backs and shoulders. Stem cell therapy is one of the best kept secrets in the medical arena.

You may wonder why you haven’t heard more about it. Number one is that at this point stem cell procedures are considered “investigational and experimental” by most insurance companies. Right now you may be thinking…whoa! Don’t stop reading, not just this article but if you or someone you love needs this, read everything you can get your hands on.

Because the procedure uses our own stem cells the FDA does not regulate them and most insurance companies don’t cover the procedure. Keep reading! In most cases this is not a deal breaker. Later in this article I am going to go through the old Ben Franklin decision making formula of Pros and Cons with you.

Let me tell you how my procedure worked. I located a clinic in San Rafael that appeared to be what I was looking for. I researched Health Link Medical Centers/Regenexx and found out everything I possibly could about them. We are so fortunate in the Bay Area to have a facility nearby. This group has been doing this type of procedure for several years and have more experience than any other clinic I researched. I called and made an appointment with Dr. Paul Handleman, D.O. Yes, he is an Orthopedic Doctor who specializes in Regenerative Interventional Orthopedics. They asked if I had a MRI and if so, to bring it with me. My personal physician had ordered one for me so I was on my way. Dr. Handleman put my MRI up on a large screen and while we looked at it together, he told me about the procedure and answered my questions. He then did an ultrasound on my knee pointing out issues that couldn’t be seen on my MRI. After I left, I had a few more questions that he willingly answered over the phone. I had made up my mind. Since I was a candidate, it was the answer to my search.

Let me share a few of the things I learned about Stem Cell Therapy. Number one, from what I’ve read it is a bit of a political hot potato. In my opinion, the medical lobbyists have done a great job keeping it at bay. The average Total Knee Replacement will have a cost of $75,000-$100,000. This includes everything from hospital stays to operating rooms, to the various medical professionals involved to after-care and rehabilitation. Then you have drugs, crutches, walkers (oh my!) Let me just say, it is BIG Business. My Stem Cell Therapy was a total of four visits to the doctor. The first visit was my consultation. The actual procedure is a three visit process over a period of approximately a week.

The first of the three visits was very quick. The doctor answered my last minute questions and then did something I thought rather unusual. He anesthetized my knee and put several shots of what amounted to “sugar water” in the places I needed to grow back the cartilage and repair ligaments. The purpose of this is to literally make these areas “angry” so when the stem cells are injected they know where to go.

The second of the visits was two days later. I was nervous. I had heard stories from people who had donated stem cells and I’m not sure if mine was different or the people that had shared had embellished but it was enough to create the nervousness. They first drew blood. They used the platelets from the blood for what is called Plasma Rich Platelets or PRP. The PRP’s by themselves were some of the stem cells used for procedures. The Doctor then numbed my lower back to extract the Stem Cells from my Iliac Crest. This has proven to be the absolute best Stem Cells in our bodies.

This process actually turned out to be pretty funny. I credit a little white pill given to be by the doctor and a system that is pretty clean (other than my borderline sugar addiction) for the humor in that day. It seems that I was “feeling no pain” when the doctor did the extraction. My son, who was sitting in the waiting room, could hear me singing my heart out all during the procedure. He told me later when I asked, that probably everyone in the eight story building could have heard me singing and laughing.

After a nice lunch with my son, I returned to the actual stem cell injections into my knee. While we were having lunch the medical team was concentrating those cells in a lab. Regenexx SD is the process. I left that day on crutches with a couple of pain pills, just in case. There was some pain involved with the procedure but I had been getting Cortisone shots every three months directly into my knee. I was hoping to never have to get another one! I was instructed to not do a lot of walking for a couple of days. I had scheduled my procedure over a long weekend. Dr. Handleman had given me his cell phone number and told me to not hesitate to call.

I went back for my third and last appointment a few days later. The doctor drew some more blood and gave me booster shots in my knee of the stem cells. I was done. I went back to work. My knee has gradually (it’s growing) gotten better and better. They had told me that the growth is at least a year -long process. It has now been 9 months.

It is a little strange how you qualify the recovery. I haven’t had a cortisone shot in a year. When I had them before I would be great for 2-3 weeks and by the time I could get another one, I would hardly be walking. I used to schedule my injections around events or travel where I knew I would need to walk a lot. Now it just gets easier and easier. I love going to church but the congregation stands while they sing. This is sometimes 30 minutes. I just couldn’t do that before. Now, I stand for the whole time and don’t even think about it. I also belong to a group who collects donations for our troops every month. I can now stand for the whole 2 hour shift. Everywhere I turn there is living proof that my body is healing itself.

Let’s go back to Ben Franklin. On the Pro Side I had…non-surgical, little or no recovery time, less pain, no prolonged time away from work or commitments resulting in less loss of income, very little help needed, no aftereffects, can have it done more than once to get a better result over time, and traditional surgery is still an option if it doesn’t work.

The Con Side is shorter. Will it work? Private Pay. Fear of the unknown. Process takes a year. Even after I decided, I thought long and hard about the private pay aspect. I began actually running the numbers. I called my insurance company to see what my total co-pays would be for the traditional surgery. That’s when I found out what the Total Knee Replacement cost was. With Obamacare now in place the numbers seemed to get higher and higher and no one seemed to be able to give me a clear picture. The Health Link Medical Center group gave me clear numbers. It would cost me approximately $6,200. The co-pays on the traditional procedure weren’t that far off and with the Stem Cell procedure I was back to work much faster not interrupting my income flow.

If you are going to opt for the Stem Cell Procedure, I would highly recommend getting on a high grade nutritional supplement as soon as possible. I have been taking great supplements for several years and rarely get sick. Little did I know that my supplements would warrant me the nickname at the clinic of “Stem Cell Queen”? It seems that the extra nutrition plus good hydration before the procedure provided over a billion stem cells in the extraction!

Even though I did my research and due diligence, I have intentionally not gone into the more scientific aspect of Stem Cell procedures. I am not a scientist, nor a doctor, just a very grateful patient. Between the Health Link and Regenexx websites and others (UC Davis has an amazing program) you can learn as much or as little as you like. Now, BOLDLY GO!