Stem cell injections for spinal cord injury reminds me to count blessings in Panama.

Brandy came in for a chiropractic visit to my office the day before they left for Panama City.  They had never been out of the country before, didn’t know any Spanish.  It’s common for me to be chatty during a treatment.  And in a casual way, with little serious thought I said, “You shouldn’t be going alone.  I wish I could go.”  Tammy sincerely answered with a near gasp, “Oh by gosh, that would be so awesome!”  Something gripped my chest and straightened me up.  I realized that God wanted me to take the thought seriously and that began the unexpected scramble to make arrangements for a journey I was to take with them over the next couple of weeks to Panama City where they have had to stay for 4 weeks.  She has regained some use of her individual fingers and has sensations and sensitivities  not felt since her accident in her legs and feet.  God is good all the time…:o)

Hopeful for stem cell miracles, Brandy looking over the Panama City skyline.

Hopeful for stem cell miracles, Brandy looking over the Panama City skyline.

The following is an article I wrote for the newspaper and I hope it will raise awareness about this important and effective procedure.  I also hope it will encourage more people to count their own blessings and pray for Brandy during her continued recovery.  Thank you for reading. :o)
June 14, 2010—A head-on collision for 16-year-old Brandy Moss of Hotchkiss, Colorado changed her and her family’s lives in an instant.  They live in Delta, Colorado now, where she can be closer to doctors and therapy.  She was paralyzed and told that not only would she not walk again.  She would never use her arms and hands or eat normal food again.  The three-year journey has lead Brandy and her mother, Tammy Moss, to Panama City, Panama, where leading-edge stem cell injections are helping people regain function after spinal cord injuries.  Thankfully, the original doctors were wrong, and Brandy can eat and move her arms and make small movements with her fingers.  But she is hoping for more.  The following is but a small slice of their courageous experience that I witnessed last week with them in Panama.
We step outside the cool-conditioned space of our Panama City high rise and feel the heaviness of the wet, hot air. It hits us in the face as if we stepped into a steam sauna. The constant chatter of the horns from rushing cars and buses is disorienting. They use them to communicate everything from a short “hello wanna ride?”, to longer outbursts of, “get out of my way!”.  The horns are yet another language to get comfortable with in this foreign land.
Focus. The goal at hand seems simple enough. All girls enjoy a trip to the mall. It’s only 6 blocks away or so. Surely it can’t take too long.  In a city of more than two million people, it’s perplexing that there are no private or public means of transportation for someone with Brandy’s needs outside of the contracted company for the stem cell clinics.   Tackling the multi-level, cracked walkways on foot and wheel chair will be our only way.
Brandy’s first injections were Friday, two days ago. She’ll have many more over the next few weeks, and they are working her hard in therapy.  She’s gone through bone marrow harvesting and massive blood exchange to extract her own stem cells.  These and cells from donated umbilical cords will serve as the foundation God will use to help her heal.  The cells are injected directly into the intrathecal space that surrounds the spinal cord and brain and also into her veins.
Yesterday she suffered a horrific headache. Headaches are a side effect with any spinal injection.  They urge all the patients to drink a LOT of water to avoid them. Brandy and her mom are so careful to do absolutely everything that is suggested to avoid complications. So they were disappointed when the headaches came. She was miserable, and her momma was understandably worried. The nurse came. It was something to ride out, to let pass like so many other minutes and hours or weeks and months they’ve strived to survive over the past three years. They’ve become champions at this waiting game, while holding steadfast to the notion of hope and forward thought.
To imagine what they’ve been through brings nauseating perspective, the counting of simple blessings. Hanging on to persistence and creative necessity, Tammy and Brandy have gradually transformed tasks most of us take for granted into their own successful daily routine. Their love for each other is moving.  Eating, primping, using Facebook :0), shifting positions to avoid bed sores and so much more, they have mastered with Brandy doing as much of it as she can herself.
But, now, as with so many of their days, a new challenge lays before them; get this girl to the mall!  We’ll go for a happy girl’s day diversion.  To the mall… a magical land of elevators and flat-surfaced floors with air conditioning! The trek to the mall is riddled with deep cracks, grates, loose manholes, flooding water (from who knows where) and narrow, railed passages with people coming and going. The heat and humidity are stifling. Reminiscent of a cross-country sky maze, every step requires assessment.  Occasionally we dead-end where we have to turn around to find a viable way. Sometimes the only way to cross a ledge is for Tammy to lift the back of the chair as I lift the front, then we move into the multiple lanes of on-coming traffic.   The constant stream of cars doesn’t seem to notice us, though I purposely wore bright colors.  But, more importantly, we have to be sure Brandy doesn’t fall out of her chair. Her ability to keep herself in her chair is one of the things we’re hopeful will return with these procedures.  Braces and our constant hands on her protects her from falling.
Even rolling her on uneven ground, there is absolute necessity to hold her steady in the chair.  What if she tipped out into the traffic?!  Of the hundreds of hot frowning Panamanian people who hurriedly pass us coming and going, only two kind souls offer assistance, and most shoot annoyed looks our way.  It took about an hour to go the 6 blocks.
The trip equates a mountain hike over treacherous terrain where the climax is the summit near a cool, clear cascade of water, the carrot being the picnic and spectacular view or in this case, the food court on the fourth floor of the mall, along with racks of shoes, bobbles and bling that seem to reach for miles on easily-maneuvered floors. The mall is mostly cool and other than slow elevators, some aisles too narrow for the chair and long lines that force Tammy to give up on McDononld’s, the giggling girly bonding over shopping and eating was worth every effort.
One Columbian man who speaks no English is very curious and shows up in unexpected places.  At each place he and I play charades, as he asks a question or two about Brandy.  We feel nearly stalked.  But his interest is sincere. His face softens when he finally understands.  He crosses his arms across his chest, head bowed and shaking.  I explain Brandy’s  ” esperanza” (hope) to walk again. “Por favor, su habla Dios mucho para mi amiga.”  Please talk to God for my friend.
Brandy and her mother, Tammy will be in Panama until the first part of August having injections every few days. There is good reason to think their inspiring persistence and patience will be rewarded with results from this promising, new experimental procedure.  Since last week, Brandy has felt burning in her legs and tingling in her feet!  The best is yet to come.  It was an honor to have the opportunity to experience some of this with them.

4 responses to “Stem cell injections for spinal cord injury reminds me to count blessings in Panama.”

  1. Estella

    This is such a blessing from God. I can’t wait to hear more about her recovery (a TOTAL recovery) I hope with LOTS of prayers. Thank you for sharing. We missed you Estella

  2. Kim Johnson

    Thanks, Dr. Mary for this narrative about Brandy and Tammi! Our daughters went to school with Brandy but lost touch. I will be praying that God provides a miracle for her! He is ABLE.

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