Borderline Medicine

March 27, 2008 8:45:33 PM PDT
Each year, 150,000 Americans cross the border for experimental therapy that is not offered in the U.S."I remember seeing the ground come up and then my head hit the Ground," Greg Minow said. "I realized at that moment that I couldn't feel anything."

At that moment, Minow was paralyzed. Doctors in the U.S. told him he'd never walk again. But giving up was not in this Army lieutenant's blood.

"I had to find something to fight for. I had to find something to live for," he said.

Searching the Web, Minow found the International Spinal Cord Regeneration Center in Tijuana. He raised $65,000 and literally rolled himself across the border for stem cell therapy -- therapy not offered in the States.

Minow claims he's gained two inches of touch sensation in his abdomen and has deep pressure sensation in his hips and the top of his legs. But one of the leading stem cell researchers in the U.S. said he is skeptical.

"So, while I understand the desperation, patients would be well advised to wait until they can really have Brand A and not just settle for Brand X," said Dr. Evan Snyder, Burnham Institute San Diego.

But for little Lexi Smith, Brand X is her only option. The 9-year-old is full of energy. She loves to dance. But what one may not notice is that Lexi is blind. Her optic nerves aren't fully developed.

"I want to see my mommy, and I want to see fireworks," Lexi said.

And Lexi's mom said she hopes an experimental stem cell transplant in China will give her that opportunity.

Some American doctors have doubts about the therapy planned for this little girl in China.

"I think whoever you talk to in this country about the blindness treatments in China, I think that they would give it the thumbs down," said Albet Donnenberg. Ph.D., UPMC Cellular Therapy.

Lexi's therapy is set for June. It will cost $50,000 to get her there and get the procedure -- an illegal treatment in the U.S. that her American doctors don't think is worth the risk. But for Lexi's mom, it's a risk worth taking.

"Hope is a major thing. When you haven't had hope for almost nine years and you finally get it, you really go with it," said mom Heather Smith.

Advocates for the stem cell treatment say the earlier Lexi has the treatment, the better the chance that it will work.

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