Apr 19, 2010

Sam’s Story – Stem cells even help old dogs with arthritis!

Sam Szabo - Forever Remembered

GUEST BLOGGER: Ms. Julia Szabo – New York City.  In 2008, my pit bull Sam had a tremendously successful experience with Vet-Stem: The brilliant Dr. Bob Harman and his team basically “Benjamin Buttoned” my beloved dog.

Sam’s stem-cell saga started two years ago, in April of 2008, when he collapsed on the sidewalk during a routine outing. He’d had mild arthritis since his ACL surgery several years before, but his joints grew progressively more stiff. Eventually, both of Sam’s hind legs gave out and he collapsed on the sidewalk in a humiliated heap. I got him home and immediately began researching Sam’s options.

That’s when I learned about the high-tech hope for dogs with arthritis (and horses and cats): Vet-Stem, the incredible therapy pioneered by Dr. Bob Harman of San Diego. I brought Sam to the vet for an exam, which determined that he was OK to undergo anesthesia even at his advanced age (14 years). It was a risk, but it was one well worth taking. My dog seemed depressed. He used to urinate by lifting his leg with an extension to rival the young Baryshnikov’s – but his limbs were now so weakened that he was relieving himself with all four feet on the ground, looking resigned and sad. Sam was not living; he was existing.

So, in a tummy tuck at the Humane Society of New York’s vet hospital (www.humanesocietyny.org), a sample of Sam’s fatty tissue was surgically removed, then FedEx’d to Vet-Stem’s headquarters, where they harvested his own stem cells. Amazingly, 14 vials of cells were harvested, one for every year of his life thus far – and every single vial was viable! Two of those vials were overnighted back to the HSNY the next day, ready to be injected directly into my dog’s afflicted joints. These injections would actually enable Sam’s joints to regenerate themselves.

I told myself I’d be thrilled if Sam would walk like his old self again – i.e. the day before he collapsed on the street. Little did I imagine that he would be walking a lot better – and feeling younger – than that! The morning that Sam’s cells arrived from San Diego by FedEx, I chauffered him to the hospital. Upon arrival, Sam attempted to jump out of the Volvo wagon – and promptly wiped out on the sidewalk, his ego significantly bruised.

That afternoon, surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Higgins called to say that all had gone well and Sam could come home. I was ready to help him dismount from the car, but he had other plans. Sam surprised me by leaping out – and making a perfect landing on all fours. He took a few steps, slowly but much more surely than he had that morning. And then, after giving me a knowing look (just to be sure I was watching his every move), Sam turned his back to me with theatrical flair, and … lifted his leg to pee. He’d only emerged from sedation three hours earlier!

The Vet-Stem miracle continued as Sam received several more injections and began regressing in age before my eyes. In chronological terms he was still 14 (that’s 98 in dog years), but Vet-Stem gave him license NOT to act his age – and pretty soon, his behavior was that of an 8- or 9-year-old dog. He resumed doing things I hadn’t seen in years: flipping over on his back to do an exuberant “Snoopy dance” while squirming and snorting with joy… trotting confidently down the sidewalk… navigating stairs with poise… flirting aerobically with cute female dogs many years his junior.

Thanks to Vet-Stem, Sam had reversed the clock on old dog arthritis. But that clock keeps ticking for us all, and Sam reached the end of his journey on March 25th of this year; he passed peacefully. He will live forever in my heart… in sculptor Jennifer Weinik’s (www.jennweinik.com) magnificent, life-size bronze bust likeness… and in his remaining stored cells, which I’ve donated back to Vet-Stem. It’s my hope that Sam’s cells will help Vet-Stem’s research efforts to help the dogs of the future to overcome arthritis and many other health hurdles.

Stem cell regenerative therapy bought my beautiful dog two long, wonderful years of youthful vigor and joy – and for that I will be forever grateful. Thank you, Vet-Stem.



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