Anneke van Iwaarden, 42 years, Severely Handicapped

Date of birth: 1964

Marital status: single

Occupation: unemployed

Severely handicapped

How it happened (told by Anneke's sister, a neonatology nurse)

When Anneke was born in 1964 she suffered severe oxygen deficiency.

The consequence

Cramps paralysed her. The possibility of any improvement were said to be extremely low. Anneke could not roll over, she could not crawl and she could not walk. Her motor functions were very poor and there was almost no positive sign of development. Anneke never learned to walk but she could at least sit in her wheelchair. Even though she could not keep her body upright.

In 1977 a nerve in her spine was cut to allow her to sit upright. And indeed, her sitting posture did improve but it was still hard for her to sit up for a long period. Anneke still faced various problems. One of her arms was still paralysed and her hand was clenched because of muscle tension. It was especially difficult to dress or undress her. She had no control over bladder and bowel movements and saliva kept constantly drooling from her mouth, which forced us to change her bed linen daily. As Anneke was not able to roll over independently somebody had to turn her. Moreover, she suffered from sleeping difficulties.

It took many years for Anneke to start talking and even longer for her to eat independently. Even though she learned to read she finds it very tiring, reads only half-heartedly, fairly slowly and one word at a time. When Anneke was 17 she suddenly refused to read anything at all.

Between the age of five and 35 Anneke spent most of the time in different homes for the disabled. She was predominantly depressed and she did not want to chat. When talking to her she remained quite passive. Anneke's devastation following her father's death prompted her to "run" away from the home for the disabled. Today, she lives in our family home, which has been specially adapted for her needs.

The opportunity

Anneke received physiotherapy treatment three times a week. And she also visited an osteopath once a week. His therapy was of great value to her. Unfortunately, due to the paralysis, her back remained crooked. Surgery seemed the only option to achieve some kind of improvement but we were unsure.

In 2005 my mother and I read an article in the newspaper about a stroke patient who had received autologous stem cell treatment and who was almost free from paralysis as a result. We contacted a specialist who arranged for Anneke to have an MRI scan. The result shocked us as it showed whole areas of her brain had been destroyed. Nevertheless, we showed the scans to Cells4health and asked whether treating Anneke might be useful. They refused to treat Anneke because the damage in her brain was so severe and re-injecting the cells into Anneke's brain would therefore be impossible. But we did not give up. Somewhere deep inside me I sensed that this treatment was a once in a lifetime chance for Anneke. The very thought that I might have been the person who denied her that chance still makes me shudder. That is why I suggested performing a lumbar puncture and re-injecting the cells that way. We talked for two weeks until, finally, they refused to treat Anneke , as success was so unlikely.

But in the end we managed to persuade them to accept her for stem cell therapy.

First stem cell therapy in September 2005

As previously agreed bone marrow was extracted from Anneke's hipbone. Hearing that the bone marrow contained a sufficient amount of stem cells was a great relief. Finally the doctors re-injected the cells by lumbar puncture.

The result

We immediately noticed that no saliva drooled out of her mouth. One might say, "Hey, that is a not much". But in fact it was such a relief! Suddenly, we did not have to change the bed linen every day any more. We were to be amazed on the fourth day after the treatment when we found Anneke reading for the first time after 25 years. She read a long and difficult text and she was obviously enjoying it.

We then noticed improvement in her back until finally she was able to sit. When Anneke felt well, almost no spasms occur. Anneke only got spasms sometimes when she was under pressure and was even capable of moving her once paralysed arm and opening her hand when she wanted to take hold of something. Our brother had a dumbbell customized for her, as the ordinary ones, which are on sale in the shops, did not suit Anneke's needs. Daily weight training proved effective in restoring muscle mass: the initial 250 grams increased to 1000 grams. After eight weeks Anneke continued having physiotherapy and osteopathy. The therapists were surprised by Anneke's progress. When she was lying down she was able to roll over independently and her back was almost straight. Having surgery was no longer necessary so sometimes being a little hesitant is not a bad thing. In fact, it is quite good.

Anneke's bowel and bladder functions have returned to normal and she does not wake up at night any more. Not only did Anneke gain physical strength, her mental and emotional strength has also improved. We do not have to encourage her any more to read a book; she enjoys reading and finds it interesting. She even participates in our conversations. Her comments are often very funny and humorous and we especially enjoy them. All the progress she made is unbelievable - sometimes even to us.

Every day Anneke gets more and more independent. She does her shopping on her own. Anneke uses her wheelchair to get back and forth from the supermarket, which is quite a long way from our house. Anneke also enjoys knitting. She uses a knitting machine to do patchwork blankets, ponchos and all kinds of clothing. Once Anneke has finished knitting the single pieces of the garments and blankets I sew them together. She has donated some of her samples to a charity in the Ukraine.

We are so thankful to see Anneke enjoying life. Her newly improved mobility and mastery over bowel and bladder functions has given Anneke a huge boost in self-confidence. Now her shyness has gone. She talks to our neighbours and even to strangers she meets in the street. Recently she has even been on holiday. She went on a trip to Tenerife, which was organized by a disability organization.

Those who have known Anneke for years are all amazed by the progress she has made. At church we told our fellow churchgoers that Anneke had had stem cell therapy. Usually news like this is posted in the parish magazine. However, they refused to include it.

Second stem cell treatment in September 2006

After the extraction of the bone marrow from her hipbone, the stem cells were isolated and re-injected by lumbar puncture.

The result

To our utter astonishment Anneke started to read fluently. The next amazing result was that, for the first time in her life , Anneke was able to stand on her own. Initially, it was just for a few seconds but now we are teaching her to stand for longer and we can use a very helpful device - the Galileo. This training machine stimulates with side-alternating vibrations the microcirculation and strengthens Anneke's muscles. We are full of expectations of further improvements in the coming months.

Our advice

Do not listen to those who try to tell you that autologous stem cell therapy is immoral and unethical. In fact, it proved to be a great medical advance for us.

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