My Quest To Be Treated Like a Dog

Doctors seemed stymied by Julia Szabo’s chronic condition. So when her pit bull’s arthritis disappeared following stem-cell injections, she wondered if a similar treatment could help her

by Laura Sinberg • Features Editor
Medicine Dog

MORE: But you found that the procedure was not FDA approved.
J.S.: In America, stem cell therapy for human patients was, and still is, restricted by the FDA. Dogs can receive more sophisticated treatments than their people can. In Europe and elsewhere there are fewer restrictions.

MORE: So what did you do?
J.S.: I found a clinical trial in Madrid. I emailed the doctor in charge and he said that the trial was over, but offered to share his papers with me and talk to any doctor I could find to do this.

There was a facility in Costa Rica that did stem-cell regeneration for humans, but it ended up closing. Then I found a place in Panama, but because no Panamanian GI surgeon had ever done stem-cell regeneration for my specific condition, the local doctors couldn’t be convinced that it wasn’t experimental and wouldn’t perform it. Another place in Tijuana, Mexico, didn’t want to do it either. At the last minute I heard about two doctors who founded the California Stem Cell Treatment Center. They were doing a procedure almost exactly the same as the one Sam had. These doctors made the treatment FDA compliant by doing what is called a closed surgical procedure, meaning they put the cells back into you the same day they are extracted, without culturing them or storing them.

MORE: On January 9, 2013, you became the first American be treated with her own stem cells for inflammatory bowel disease. What was the outcome?
J.S.: As far as I’m concerned, I’m cured. I look and feel my best ever.  I got an intravenous injection of the cells, and also a shot directly into the surgical incision that was made in 1999, with the hope that both would help the wound close up. I felt better right after the injections. I am a journalist, so I knew I had to be skeptical, but then I remembered my dog. I haven’t had a flare-up since the procedure. People stop me on the street and say I look radiant.

MORE: Was there any downside to the procedure?
J.S.: The only bad part is that because we couldn’t culture and save my stem cells, if I have a relapse, I’ll have to undergo the expensive procedure again. My hope is that this book motivates people to demand that the FDA change their policies on stem cell procedures.

MORE: And Sam?
J.S.: Sam lived until he was 17 years old—the average lifespan for a big dog is 10-13 years. My other dog, Sheba, also got the procedure for arthritis and she lived to 16.

Medicine Dog (Lyons Press; $17) is out now.

Next: Pooches Get Poetic

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