Stem cell therapy gives hope to patients with chronic illness

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A new, innovative stem cell therapy happening in a Hattiesburg clinic is giving hope to patients with chronic inflammatory conditions.

Todd Louviere has had Multiple Sclerosis for more than 20 years.

"When it was at it's worst, I couldn't eat," he said. "I had to do a liquid diet pretty much. I couldn't chew."

Louviere's MS triggered Trigeminal neuralgia, which is a severe chronic pain condition impacting the nerve that carries sensations from the face to the brain.

"Kind of a rare case," Louviere said. "One of the neurologists told me that, being what's going on with me, I ought to go buy a lottery ticket because there's very few in my situation. Super painful when it acts up. I'll give you the best example I heard a woman say. She said it's like taking a nine penny nail, driving it in your head, and after that, take a pair of jumper cables. Hook them to the positive and negative on your battery, and hook those jumper cables onto that nine penny nail you just drove in your head. It sends an electrical shock also. It is crazy. I mean, just touching your nose or your eye, it sets that thing off. Crazy pain."

That pain combined with the MS meant everyday tasks were out of the question without help from his family, like his wife, Leah, and his daughter, Shelbie.

"Simple things like brushing his teeth, getting in and out of his wheelchair, taking a shower, changing his shirt, drinking," Leah said. "To take his medication, I had to put the medicine in his mouth and let him drink through a syringe because he couldn't drink out of the glass or through a straw anymore."

Shelbie said, "Life has always been MS for me. He was diagnosed when I was 4, so I remember him playing catch with us in the yard and going to run with him. He would run two miles every day, and that hasn't been life the last 15 years. It's been steady downhill, just watching someone you love's health decline, and it's been rough."

Todd's condition has completely changed thanks to stem cell therapy happening in Hattiesburg. Doctors at PRX Healthcare Restoration Centers and BrioMD developed the cell therapy that extracts a person's own stem cells from fluid, called lipoaspirate, found around fat cells, sends that fluid to its FDA registered lab to remove fat cells and concentrate stem cells, then infuses them back into the body.

"We're able to decrease the inflammation to improve the patient's function, and often relieve a great number of their symptoms," said Dr. Alan Cole, neurologist for PRX Healthcare Restoration Centers and BrioMD.

Cole said the cells are infused into the circulatory system and first enter the pulmonary capillaries around the lungs. Some cells pass through to repair inflamed or damaged areas. The ones that stay, go through a normal cell dying process and release healing enzymes that are spread throughout the body through the circulatory system to damaged areas.

"In the treatment we do, we try to follow the natural pathway," Cole said. "If an individual for some reason loses weight or starved, the fat cells are diminished, and the stem cells will often then naturally enter the circulatory system. It's a natural process what we're doing."

Cole said because the cells are the patient's own, the danger of side effects is "nonexistant."

After just nine weeks, Todd said he's doing 50 to 60 push ups and squats in the morning, using dumbbells, working on his handwriting and hoping to walk again.

"It means everything to me," Todd said. "I mean, when you have a disease that takes things away from you, and they have a medicine, a treatment that you're gaining it back, that's the biggest plus they got. It's very pumped up for me because in the past, I was on a state championship football team. (I) went to law enforcement academy. I won the physical fitness award in my class. We had 56 officers. I did 74 push ups in a minute, 56 sit ups in a minute, and I ran a mile and a half in 10 minutes. That's how I was able to achieve the physical fitness award, and I plan on getting back up to what I made back then. I'm succeeding, just about, in some of it. I did 70 push ups the other day at my house, so it's coming along."

Leah said Todd saw results within three days of his first infusion.

"It was so fast," she said. "The morning after harvesting and his first infusion, he was actually doing squats, holding onto something for balance because his legs are weak, but he was able to do squats. That is amazing. He was able to brush his teeth the night we got home from the first infusion, and it seems so little to people who haven't gone through it because it's like brushing your teeth, taking a shower. But these are the things that were taken away from him. Just the first time I could kiss him goodnight. You know, we were down to just squeezing each other's hand, so it's nice. Just ordinary things that people take for granted, and now he can do everything."

Leah said this therapy is the first treatment that's given her family hope.

"I was really worried I was going to lose him because he couldn't deal with the pain much longer," she said. "I was probably going to take a sabbatical from my job because he could no longer just be independent. I couldn't go to work and know that he was going to be all right, and that wasn't all right. It was really, really bad, and the future didn't look bright at all. We were worried. This has been the answer to our prayers. At this point, we didn't have anything to lose, and what has happened to us is a miracle because it didn't look bright for the future, and now we have hope."

"I'm getting married in October, and now he's talking about being able to walk me down the aisle and dance with me at my wedding," Shelbie said, choking up. "That's just...we're hopeful, like she said."

The Louvieres said they're now hopeful for those big moments, and thankful for the little ones, like family barbecues outside and laughter, that are back in their lives.