BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Most cases of back pain are caused by problems with disks - the cushions between bones of the spine. Most treatments are not very successful, but what if you could rejuvenate a disk with your own stem cells?
Johna Lindell has had disk problems for several years. After her daughter, Abby was born, things got worse.
"That was very frustrating, because I wasn't able to carry her," she said. "Even as an eight-pound infant, I wasn't able to carry her for a long time in a carrier or anything like that."
Johna's husband is Buffalo Bills' kicker Rian Lindell. That's how she met Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, who had treated Kevin Everett for his spine injury. Dr. Cappuccino noted a typical abnormality on her MRO scan. Normal disks look white, because they contain water.
"You can see that those three disks have turned black, dark. They've lost their water content, so they are losing their ability to be a shock absorber, and they're beginning to bulge out into the spinal canal," Dr. Cappuccino explained.
He's been helping develop a technique of removing a patient's stem cells from the bone marrow and injecting them into damaged disks. Needles were used to inject stem cells into Johna's discs.
"The needles were removed, band-aids were placed, she went to the recovery room, and an hour and 15 minutes later, she was on her way home," Dr. Cappuccino said.
That was only nine days ago, but there's been daily improvement.
Johna said, "I feel better every day when I get up out of bed and I notice that I'm happier, because I can get up and I can function and I can go in and get my daughter and I can get her ready and I'm not shuddering with pain."
It will take months before the full benefit is achieved. Many patients have done very well.
Dr. Cappuccino said, "We see statistically significant decreases, almost back to the normal range, in patients that have had disabling pain for years."
"I'm happy to be part of something that I really think is going to be bigger in the future," Johna said.
This procedure is done all in one treatment. The bone marrow is removed, the stem cells are separated, and then injected into the disks. It's not right for everyone, and it isn't covered by insurance. But if the long-term outcomes live up to Dr. Cappuccino's expectations, it will probably become a very popular treatment.