Lavinia Conopan, 31 years, Spinal Cord Injury

Year of birth: 1978

Disease treated: Spinal cord injury

Car crash

We were driving home from my 25th birthday celebration when the driver took a curve too fast and lost control over the car. The car spun around, crushed and landed on its roof. I was seating in the passengers seat and was not wearing a seatbelt - so, subsequently, I flew out off the side window and landed on the asphalt - with my spine and my head. My injuries were nearly fatal and I was in a coma for 2 days and have no recollection of the next 4-5 weeks after the accident. My head and lungs were injured, my collarbone, pelvis and left leg were broken, my spleen had to be removed and the surgeons at the initial hospital performed a number of operations. Unfortunately the doctors made the fatal decision not to operate my spine, as they suspected that the cord had been cut altogether. 9 days later, after I was transferred to a specialty clinic in Hungary, the doctors there saw that the cord was not cut, but merely pressed by a bone. This meant that, I would not have been paralyzed, had the decompressive surgery taken place immediately.

After the crash

My life had changed, I was in a wheelchair and I was in a lot of pain, but I was eager to improve my situation and really concentrated all of my energy on my physiotherapy program instead of anger and dread. My parents were devastated, my mother was crying all the time and my father was very angry and could not accept my faith. I remained very positive and tried to convince them that everything was fine, that I was fine, despite of all that had happened. Until this day I have no anger and have accepted my life in a wheelchair. From the very beginning on I refused to take pain medication

I had been a student, working toward my Doctors degree in agriculture, when the accident occurred, so I did not have a lot of savings. After we found about the possibility of receiving stem cell treatment, all of my friends donated and raised money for me, amongst other friends, colleagues, and family. I am extremely grateful for their friendship and generosity.

Stem cell therapy

I received my first stem cell treatment in April of 2008. The stem cells were introduced via lumbar puncture. The entire experience, from the first pick up at the airport, to the professional medical treatment and friendly service and care, was very pleasant. I had been told, that improvement could be expected within the next 6 months. After around 4 months I started to feel that my muscles were getting tired when working out during physiotherapy. I saw it as a very positive sign that my brain received information from an area of my body that was paralyzed and without sensation for the last 5 years! Eventually my spasms have increased and I gradually started to feel pain in my toes and entire legs, but most of all, I could feel that my legs were moving during physiotherapy.

The second stem cell therapy took place in January 2009. Prior to this therapy my Achilles tendon was blocked and I was unable to rotate my feet. After the second treatment I can rotate both feet and am more flexible. I still cannot feel if a hot or a cold object is touching my feet, but I can now tell weather my legs are warm or cold. When I wear my special braces for my feet, I am even able to stand up. Furthermore I can now feel when I need to go to the toilet and my bladder capacity has increased, which is a convenient improvement for someone who is in a wheelchair. I am about to complete the next rehabilitation program and will focus these six weeks on taking my first steps.

My thoughts on stem cell therapy

I never expected to simply get up and walk away from my wheelchair after the stem cell therapy and this is not what the clinic estimated for me. Any small improvement means a world to patients with a spinal cord injury, and I am taking small steps towards improvement and I am really glad that I had the chance to benefit from this new, exiting treatment.

A personal note: During my stay at the clinic, I met Ralf, who was the driver assigned for me. We remained in friendly contact over the following months, but I had been so busy taking care of my physiotherapy and getting well over the last 6 years that I was not remotely thinking in this direction. However, the exiting news is: We are planning on getting married in September of 2009.

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