STRONGSVILLE - Multiple Sclerosis is an unpredictable and often disabling neurological disease affecting more than 2 million people worldwide.
There is no cure, but there is hope.
And it may lie in stem cell research, which is both experimental and controversial.
One Strongsville man is willing to take a chance, in the hopes he'll get back some of what the disease has stolen from him.
To look at him, Gary LaBuda appears to be the picture of health. But when you watch him walk, you realize something isn't quite right.
Four years ago, doctors diagnosed the 43-year-old with multiple sclerosis, or MS. A devastating, degenerating neurological disease.
After a year on MS medication, his world changed in a day.
"Every single symptom you could possibly have hit me and literally stopped me from working," he explains. "That day was the last day of my work."
Some of those symptoms included slurring, constant dizziness and migraines, plus heat fatigue.
His vision and cognitive function was also affected, causing him to lose words.
Gary believes the cause was the medication. "Every single side effect you can get from that medication, I got from that medication," he says. "That was over fifty side effects and I had every single one."
Switching medication and dosage didn't help, so Gary stopped taking it.
He started looking for alternatives including cryotherapy and dry needling for constant muscle spasms and tightness, physical therapy for strength.
But now he's trying an experimental option.
Plastic Surgeon Mark Foglietti and Sports Medicine Doctor Michael Kellis each had a keen interest in stem cell science and decided to offer it to patients. They created the Ohio Stem Cell Treatment Center of Cleveland, an affiliate of the National Cell Surgical Network.
There is a disclaimer on their website, indicating the treatment is not FDA approved and not known to cure any disease or injury. Studies have shown the procedure is safe but it's not covered by insurance.
Gary is paying $8,600 for hope.
"There's no guarantee," he says. "But there's also no risk, so it's not gonna hurt nothing."
The procedure involves using liposuction to remove dormant mesenchymal stem cells in Gary's fat tissue. They are activated, or woken up, by being spun in a centrifuge.
20 MS patients have been treated by Foglietti and Kelils so far. They've seen patients show improvement in the mental fog, then speech is improved, followed by decreased muscle spasms and increased coordination.
The procedure for Gary ends with him receiving his own cells in an IV. He's hoping this is the day a miracle will happen and he is grateful for the chance. He won't know for three months if the treatment has worked.
The doctors say they always emphasize to the patient that this treatment may not work for them, it might work for them, it's hard to know. But it is an opportunity to supply a safe, effective alternative to what's not working in medicine.
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