I do hope my son will forgive me for writing about this publicly. He's a very private person, so I won't post his name or photos. I think the information I'm about to share with you is too important to keep secret.
YES, YOUNG, HEALTHY PEOPLE GET COVID-19
Like me, my son, who is 19, got sick with SARS-COV-2 back in early March. Unlike me, he hardly had any symptoms at all - at first. While I battled horrific and debilitating gastrointestinal problems, like a complete loss of appetite for two months, infectious gastritis and esophagitis, death of my gallbladder, etc etc etc, my son reported only feeling mildly feverish (but registering no temperature, or only a low-grade one) and a slight escalation of his (already bad) allergy symptoms.
Fast forward to May, and the silent damage Covid-19 had been doing to his body began to manifest, in terrifying ways. A long-distance runner before the virus, my son could no longer run at all. His resting heart rate had doubled, from 60 beats per minute to 95, and when he stood up it shot up as high as 130 beats per minute, at rest. He sprouted a lupus-like rash across his cheeks. His veins began to bulge. Worst of all, he hatched a crippling headache behind his eyes and in his brain stem, that never went away, no matter what he took or did.
Months and months with a headache that left his nauseated and unable to do much of anything at all.
His eyes became sore and bloodshot, hurting to be turned. Fatigue hit him, hard, and he was unable to get out of bed most days. Terrifyingly, he began experience a constant deep ache in his chest and upper back, made worse with breathing. I saw my graceful, cheerful, energetic, athletic son, an honor student who had earned himself a full scholarship plus room and board (and a stipend!) to college with his grades, turn into an old man before my eyes. In early March, I'd watched him run 13 miles in the high mountains without a problem - pure grace and beauty. Now, he could barely shuffle to the bathroom. His personality even changed, going from easygoing and comedic to furious and mean - and while I know that much pain, unrelenting, might drive anyone to anger, there was more to it than that. This thing was in his brain.
Trapped in New Mexico, where excellent healthcare seems as distant and inaccessible as the ocean, he, like I, was mostly gas-lit by doctors. They acknowledged his unusual labs, but always found some convenient excuse for them in the absence of a positive covid nasal swab - even though the swabs are notoriously unreliable, and given the very late date at which he was even allowed to get one. Finally, we found a doctor who diagnosed him with presumed covid-19 based on symptoms and labs, but even she was at a loss as to how to help him. I sent many articles, frantic, asking for referrals and treatments. In most cases, these were denied by the insurance company.
NO ONE WANTS TO SAVE YOU MORE THAN YOUR MOM
It is one thing to watch oneself going through long-haul covid symptoms that never seem to end and which seem to threaten to destroy us. But it is quite another thing to see this happening to one's child. In my case, my only child. I am a single mother, and he had come home from the dorms to quarantine with me at the start of the pandemic. It is possible, maybe even likely, that he had contracted the illness at the university, where he had more contact with people than I did working as a writer at home. But we don't know for sure how or where we got it. We just know that we did.
I asked my son's dad for help, and got none. He and his wife are the types who don't believe anything unless it has an official stamp of approval upon it. So they, too, gas-lit us. Unless our son had a positive test, they refused to accept he was gravely ill. Because they did not see him very often, they wrote it off as either me seeking attention through pretending my son was sick, or as our son just needing to "get a job." We are divorced for many reasons, but I suspect you can guess from this interchange what some of them might be.
Unable to work, having lost my job to this illness, unable to even collect unemployment, I fell dependent upon my parents to help us pay our bills. Month after month passed, as we waited to feel better. I started to improve with dietary changes and nutritional supplements I'd put together based on my own research about the disease, but my son was not improving. Where the illness seemed to have mostly attacked my GI tract, skin, bones and eyes, it had gone straight for my son's heart and brain. Because males have a harder time fighting it off, he struggled. And I became laser-focused on finding a way to heal him. If his dad, stepmom and the medical community in our city were not going to help him, I would. There had to be a way. I saw horror stories of cases similar to his, sort of a form of Kawasaki disease, where young, healthy people were dropping dead from strokes and heart attacks. I would not, could not, let that happen to my son.
I discovered, as have many people (though few of them, sadly, being doctors in New Mexico), that researchers were clear about covid-19 being a vascular disease. It attacks the ACE2 receptors in endothelial cells. A study from Germany showed that 78% of survivors, even those who've never had symptoms, end up with heart damage. I also saw that there were several successful trials that had been done on covid patients, using Mesanchymal stem cells, which hold the power to repair and regenerate damaged endothelial cells; modulate an out-of-control immune system; and reduce inflammation - all the things. ALL THE THINGS! All the things we need.
NOT ALL STEM CELL CLINICS ARE CREATED EQUAL
I began calling around. There were lots of clinics, even here in Albuquerque, that billed themselves as offering MSCs. We even went to one of these and talked to the doctor. He assured me they had umbilical-cord-derived stem cells, and promised that he could give my son several millions of them, in an IV. I asked him what the source was, and he said Utah Cord Bank. I googled this in the office, and to my shock, learned that such stem cells were not only ineffective, but that those who sell them are no better than snake-oil salesmen.
While umbilical stem cells can work very well, this has not been the case in the United States since before 2015, when the pharmaceutical industry successfully lobbied to have the legal definition of stem cells changed, from "biologics" to "drugs." This distinction is key. Biologics include things like blood and plasma - and, in the rest of the world, stem cells. But due to the great success stem cell therapies were having CURING chronic illness like diabetes, arthritis and autoimmune diseases, the drug companies wanted them GONE - after all, drug companies make most of their enormous profits off medicating chronic illnesses for people's entire lives. But because they could not just get rid of stem cells, some crafty sociopath had the bright idea to simply change the legal definition, so that only drug companies could sell and administer most stem cell treatments. The many small companies that had been making money of stem cell treatments without a middle man revolted, and so big pharma and the US government made a concession - these small operations, like the one I visited in Albuquerque - could continue to sell MSCs, but with some caveats. Those derived from cord blood would have to be freeze-dried first, which effectively killed them all in the process; and those derived from a patient's own body (autologous MSCs, taken from either bone marrow or adipose tissue) could not be "expanded" (grown in the lab so that they multiplied to many more cells than were harvested). Only big pharma would be allowed to expand cells, and those cells would not even be called stem cells anymore. In fact, under pressure from drug company lobbyists, lawmakers agreed to even OUTLAW the use of "stem cells" for these new "drug" treatments, paving the way for big pharma to slap fancy drug-sounding names on literal stem cells, thereby fooling the public into thinking they could only get this treatment from someone like Pfizer, rather than, you know, their own bodies. This was all, in my opinion, criminal, yet one more marker of the way end-time capitalism destroys lives for cash. So it is that right now, there are many companies doing trials on covid patients, with astonishingly positive results, for products ("Organicell" or "Zofin") that sound like medicines, but which are actually plain old stem cells - and the public, including many long-haulers I know, think they have to WAIT for these trials to end and for FDA approval and a prescription before they can get the product. This is all a lie that big pharma and the US government are perfectly willing to tell us, so long as capitalists make a huge profit off our desperation and sickness down the road, once they've figured out how to mass-market this stuff.
A YOUNG LIFE, RETURNED
Armed with this information, I began seeking a clinic in the United States somewhere - or elsewhere in the world - that would be able to give my son MSCs for his post-covid inflammatory illness and heart, vessel and brain damage. I found a great doctor and clinic in Boulder, Colorado, just up the interstate about six hours, where the doctor was willing to do the treatment. His hands were tied by the new FDA regulations, of course, so he would only be able to harvest MSCs from my son's bone marrow, do minimal processing to remove fat and other cells that wouldn't be helpful, and then give the MSCs back to him intravenously. I was told that the total number of cells would depend upon how many he had. It was unlikely we'd be able to get the millions being given to people in clinical trials, but we could probably get enough to make a dent. To get millions, we'd have to travel to Mexico or some other nation where big pharm hasn't totally corrupted the biologics industry. Because we both lack current passports, and because my son's need was urgent (and the government is taking months to process passport applications at the moment), we opted to give Boulder a try.
I took my son to Colorado last week. His procedure happened on Friday. They were able to harvest close to 700,000 MSCs from his hip bone. Within three hours, the rash on his face began to clear up. By Saturday, it was gone. Also on Saturday, my son said his headache was gone. This was a headache that had never left him, in five months! His back pain was less. His voice sounded clearer. And he was smiling again. It was nothing short of a miracle. We are still less than a week past the procedure, but the headache has not returned. My son says he feels like he's healing. The only side effect has been a slight sense of a fever in the evenings, but the doctor said that's normal and should subside within a week. Even though he feels feverish, my son is not registering a high temperature.
I was only able to afford this procedure - $3500, plus the cost of all extra labs - and travel because I did a Facebook fundraiser and my friends and readers pitched in. And I was only able to afford to get the treatment for him. I continue to have some lingering symptoms, and would like to get the same procedure for myself, once I've saved up enough. We also have a friend, a fellow long-hauler, who met us in Boulder and also had the treatment; he, too, is feeling better.
I am convinced that for long-haulers, absent any other treatment or cure, MSCs are effective at helping us. And, contrary to what the medical industry (yes, INDUSTRY) would have you believe, you do NOT have to wait for some drug company to label human stem cells with a drug-sounding fancy name. You can get this treatment now. If you seek it in the United States, beware the snake oil salesmen. Seek only MSCs that are AUTOLOGOUS - meaning, they are harvested from your own body. Donor cells in our weakened state might make things worse, if your body rejects them. Do not accept previously frozen cells. And if you choose to get this done elsewhere, the same rules apply. Best to use your own cells, if you can, and see if the labs will expand them for you (should take a few days to a week to do so), so that you get the most bang for your buck.
There is hope. I'm watching my long-hauler son and dear friend both RECOVER after stem cell treatment.
The clinic we went to is called Boulder Biologics, and the physician is Dr. Gowney. There are a few other similar clinics, but I truly believe Dr. Gowney cares, is informed, and wants to help. He saved my son's life.