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YOUR HEALTH: How stem cells are helping patients quickly recover from strokes

One woman couldn’t walk or talk for months after a stroke.  Now she’s playing Jenga with her students.

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – A simple signature speaks volumes for Malena Buck.

Malena had a stroke during Saint Petersburg College graduation.  She couldn't write her name, walk or even talk with her students.

"I was walking in a walker for a long time. I couldn't move my hand.

But then, through a University of South Florida study, she had a drug made from stem cells injected in her brain at the University of Chicago.

After the surgery she was able to wave her right hand.

"I told the doctor and he goes 'They can't work that fast' but the minute I got out of surgery I could do things that I couldn't do before."

Strokes are the fifth most common cause of death and the number one cause of long-term disability.

USF and Tampa General Hospital Dr. William Scott Burgin says most patients can feel the effects of the stem cells gradually.

"Preliminary research has shown that in these circumstances it's very encouraging that using these cells can aid recovery," said Dr. Burgin, Professor and Division Director at the Vascular Neurology Department at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.

Dr. Burgin says right now most stroke recovery treatments are limited to conventional therapy.

He says there isn't medication that helps with recovery.

"This would be kicking the door open to an entire new realm of possibilities for people with the most disabling medical condition that we come across in the world."

HOW DID HER DO IT?   Dr. Burgin said in Malena's case: "those were stem cells that were administered by way of a surgery, implanted in the brain in the location where the brain injury was.  But down the road, we're looking at other ways that this could happen.  Potentially these could be administered in the future by intravenous infusion or other yet to be determined techniques."

After the surgery, Malena's life changed dramatically.

"If it wasn't for them or the stem cells, I would have just given up."

Participants in the clinical trial must be age 35 to 75 and have limited movements of their arms and legs 12 months after stroke.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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