HOUSTON, TX - A remarkable recovery of hope and survival surrounds a local young woman. Three months to live: That's what doctors told Sarah Hughes, after she spent most of the first twenty years of her life in a hospital bed. A rare form of juvenile arthritis took over not only her joints, but her organs!
However, doctors say Sarah's life was spared because of her own stem cells. Now the FDA is taking note of her impressive situation. She hopes they will reverse their decision to keep her type of stem cell therapy away from the U.S. It sure has made a huge difference in Sarah's life. The 25-year old says she's not only living, she's thriving!
Before stem cells, she weighed only 87 pounds and relied on a feeding tube for nutrition. "Sarah had severe sepsis that required ICU for weeks and weeks, three times she suffered that, she had non-stop blood clots, a pulmonary embolism, that required ICU. She was in the pediatric units most of her life, she was always getting Baker's cysts in the back of her knees, and non-stop spinal leaks. Fluid out of her spinal cord would come out, and doctors tell me that's the worst pain on earth," describes her mother, Fiona.
Sarah relied on dozens of medications to keep her alive, including chemotherapy, and was at high-risk of losing her eyesight. "When Sarah was going through this, going blind was the least of our concerns, we just wanted to keep Sarah alive," exclaims Fiona. They did! Sarah had fat cells extracted from her own body at Celltex in Houston.
Experts at the facility stimulated her cells to help heal other cells in her body. Then, she had to travel out of the country, to Mexico, to have them injected. She's had to go back six times for the procedure. Not many patients can physically or financially afford this, which is why Sarah is trying to help change the strict laws that surround it.
Right now, doctors in the U.S. are allowed to manipulate a few stem cells and inject them immediately back into the patient. However, when they manipulate them to help build hundreds of millions of cells, for severe cases like Sarah's, it falls under the same strict FDA standards as a prescription drug, which is why the stem cells can't be re-injected in the U.S, at least at this point.
It was allowed for about eighteen months in the U.S. "We were surprised to get a phone call from the FDA that they would like her to testify. She mustered up the courage and I was very, very proud of her," smiles Fiona.
"I told them a third of the U.S. population is chronically ill, a lot of people, and they could benefit from this treatment," explains Sarah. "She told the entire FDA panel and was very serious about it: This is the greatest country on earth - why do you make it so difficult for people like me to get better? Then she said, come on guys - we can do better than this! It was very powerful, saw some of them wipe a tear and they were nodding," says Fiona.
Sarah went from being bed-bound before stem cells to walking three miles a day, riding horses, and working on her farm, alongside her loving mom, after stem cell therapy. For the first time in her life, Sarah is out of the hospital and making friends. "I do school work, depending on how that goes, I bake or ride (her horse, Sterling Bridge). I have a boyfriend now and see him almost everyday," smiles Sarah. Since she went so long without being able to eat, she has a new love of baking bread and of course enjoy eating her masterpieces!
Sarah's story has recently gotten the attention of local Congressman Pete Olson. Fiona says he has asked Sarah and her specialist, Dr. Stanley Jones - Chief Medical Officer of Celltex Therapeutics Corporation, to speak in front of the House of Representatives, on behalf of the "21st Century Cures Act". It has all ready been approved by the Senate and would speed-up the process of approving stem cell therapy for all Americans.and hopefully medical insurance will help pay for it.