The Way We Were

Stem cell therapy eliminates debilitating knee pain.

Before it becomes the gas that fuels your car, crude oil is first excavated from the ground and then transported to a refinery either through pipelines or by a train or a river barge the likes of which Michael Thompson pushes for a living.

Michael Thompson and Chuck Farrell both received stem cell treatments and both are walking like they used to.

Michael Thompson

“I captain a towboat that pushes barges that are a thousand feet long,” says Michael, who has been on the water since he earned his Master of Boating Vessels license in 1992. “We push other stuff, too, but it’s mostly oil that’s on those barges now.

“I currently go from St. Paul, Minnesota all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico and from Corpus Christi, Texas all the way to Pensacola. I drive those towboats down the Mississippi, the Ohio and the Illinois Rivers and across the Intracoastal Canal.”

Prior to beginning his career as a boat captain, Michael, 65, served as a policeman in his home of New Smyrna Beach and later worked with an emergency services unit at Cape Canaveral, where training was a grueling daily exercise.

“We did a lot of running and ran across a lot of obstacle courses during our training for that job, and I have beaten my body up pretty badly over the years, because I developed some serious knee issues,” Michael relates.

Those knee issues became acute a few years ago after Michael spent a long weekend visiting his family in Marietta, Ohio, where he spent an evening taking in a fireworks show during the area’s annual Sternwheel Festival.

“I spent most of that night carrying my sister’s granddaughter on my shoulders so that she wouldn’t have to fight the crowd to see the fireworks,” Michael remembers. “The next day, my knees hurt so bad, I could barely walk.”

Michael had fought through his moderate knee pain for years at that point, but it was so intense following his trip to the festival that he sought advice from his primary care physician, who immediately sent him to a bone doctor.

The bone doctor sent Michael to a knee specialist who gave Michael an injection of cortisone, a hormone that is often effective in reducing inflammation and pain in joints and tendons. It wasn’t effective in reducing Michael’s pain.

“It helped very little,” Michael says of the cortisone shot. “That doctor got me approved for another type of shot, but I can’t even tell you what it was. It was a lubricant of some kind, but that didn’t help either.”

The Last Straw

Michael spent more than a year waiting for first the cortisone shot and later for the lubricant to take effect. It was a miserably long wait that was made worse by the fact that the pain prohibited him from exercising in any way.

“I was hurting so bad, I couldn’t even walk, and I used to walk every day for exercise,” Michael says. “Throw in the fact that I sit for twelve hours a day driving the boat and before long, I started putting on weight. Lots of weight.

“I eventually got up to three hundred and fifty-six pounds. Then, last summer, I brought my twin sons down here from Ohio for a vacation. Well, the first thing they wanted to do when they got here was take a walk on the beach.

“I couldn’t go with them because I couldn’t walk. It was just too painful, especially on the beach like that. That was the last straw for me. That’s when I said, Enough and decided I had to get something done about this once and for all.”

Michael’s decision sparked a conversation with his family members over what route to follow next. It was during that conversation that his cousin’s daughter suggested he visit Coastal Integrative Healthcare, where she had worked as a massage therapist.

Michael acted immediately on the recommendation. During his first visit, he was given a thorough examination that included x-rays and was advised by one of the treating physicians to start taking magnesium for his pain.

“She said the magnesium would help because she suspected that the pain and extra weight I’d put on was making me walk differently than usual, and that was likely causing the muscles to fight each other and cramp,” Michael says.

“She also made an appointment for me to come back and get a chiropractic adjustment. When I went back for that, they showed me the x-rays and explained that the reason I was in so much pain was because there was almost no cartilage left in my knees.

“They also told me they could fix that with stem cell therapy. At that point, I was willing to do anything to alleviate the pain because I knew my quality of life was only going to get worse if I didn’t do something.”

Our Body’s Building Blocks

Stem cells are the basic foundation cells that grow all of the tissue and organs in our body. When injected into a damaged organ or tissue, such as the cartilage in Michael’s knees, they support the natural healing process by regenerating that tissue.

Also known as regenerative medicine, stem cell therapy uses stem cells to stimulate the body’s natural repair mechanisms. Many in the medical community, including those at the National Institutes of Health and the Institute of Medicine, consider it the future of medicine.

“It’s definitely on the leading edge of medical technology,” states Timothy Steflik, DC, of Coastal Integrative Healthcare. “It’s a great alternative to surgery. It regenerates the body instead of trying to fix it or cover up a problem with surgery.

“The real beauty of it is that it is a one-and-done, in-office procedure that takes about fifteen minutes and needs no anesthesia. It’s a simple injection of the cells that are cryo-preserved right in our office.

“For some patients, we do a color ultrasound to guide the injection because we need to be very specific where the cells are placed. Once the cells are injected, the patient just needs time to heal. They can return to normal activities right away.”

Stem cell therapy can be used anywhere in the body where there is arthritis, or a muscle or tendon tear, Dr. Steflik educates. In addition to knees and shoulders, medical providers at Coastal Integrative Healthcare have performed the procedure on hamstrings, ankles and wrists.

Not all patients are good candidates for the procedure. Patients who have suffered a tear of more than 50 percent of the rotator cuff in their shoulder, for example, or have absolutely no cartilage left in their knee would be encouraged to try other options first.

Back to the Beach

Chuck Farrell knows one of those other options all too well. He has a couple of friends whose ceaseless knee pain resulted in them opting for replacement surgery. One of those friends, he says, had a good experience. The other, not so good.

Convinced that the odds were stacked against him, Chuck, 78, had long been reluctant to have the surgery that more than one doctor told him he needed to rid him of the right knee pain that had all but disabled him.

“I’m seventy-eight years old, a retired REALTOR®, but I like to stay active,” Chuck explains. “I especially like walking on the beach. That’s why my wife and I bought a house here in New Smyrna Beach, because we like the beach.

“Well, about fifteen years ago, I started having knee problems – a lot of pain – and I was told on more than one occasion that it was pretty much bone on bone in my right knee and that my only choice was to have surgery.

“I always thought I was too young to have replacement surgery, and really, I didn’t want it anyway, so I put it off. When the pain got real bad, I’d just take Aleve® or something like that. After I retired, though, the pain started to get a lot worse.

“There was a point where it was so bad, I couldn’t even mow the lawn. I had to buy a riding mower because it hurt too much to walk behind a push mower. And as for those walks on the beach, well, I went for years without being able to take one of those.”

Despite the impact it was having on his lifestyle, Chuck refused to seriously consider knee replacement surgery, which another doctor recommended just last year. Then came a day a few months ago when he discovered an alternative while reading a local newspaper.

“I attended a seminar about stem cell therapy at the public library here in New Smyrna Beach to see what it was all about,” Chuck reports.

The seminar Chuck attended was facilitated by Coastal Integrative Healthcare. The featured speaker was Dr. Steflik, who impressed Chuck so much that he immediately made an appointment with the doctor to see if he was a candidate for the treatment.

During that appointment, which took place in January, an x-ray of Chuck’s right knee was taken that revealed he still had some cartilage left, enough to make him a candidate for stem cell therapy. Chuck agreed then and there to give the treatment a try.

Michael Thompson and Chuck Farrell both received stem cell treatments and both are walking like they used to.

Chuck Farrell

“I figured, What do I have to lose?” Chuck reveals. “I thought, If it doesn’t work, I can always go back and have the surgery. And for the first twenty-eight days or so after I received the injection, I was thinking I might have to do that.

“I wasn’t really noticing any improvement. But then, after I started to do some physical therapy and some exercises to help build up my leg muscles, I started to notice a real difference, and my knee started to feel a lot better.”

Chuck has continued to experience improvement ever since, to the point where he is once again taking his walks along the beach. He’s still not walking the distances he once was, but he’s confident he’ll be walking those distances again soon.

“The pain is gone, and I even cut the grass here a while back,” Chuck reports. “I wore a brace to do that, but I’m able to push the mower again without the pain. I can’t tell you how great a feeling it is to be able to do that and walk the beach again.”

Pain Free Again

Michael knows the feeling. He received his stem cell injections last September during one of the breaks in his work schedule, which calls for him to work 28 straight days, with a two-week break in between work periods.

He also started doing physical therapy at that time and wearing knee braces for support. When he returned to Coastal Integrative Healthcare a little more than a month after receiving his injections, the staff was amazed at his improvement.

“I was already walking much better and was in a lot less pain,” Michael says. “I was told I could stop wearing the knee braces at that time, but one of the nurses there, Greg Salter, saw I had some bone spurs.

“He said the bone spurs are the body’s way of forming a cast to keep any more damage from happening, and he recommended I use a rolling pin of all things to get them out. So, I got a rolling pin and rolled that across my knees a couple times a day.”

The rolling pin treatment was a bit painful at first, but Michael stuck with it in part because Greg told him it would not only break down the bone spurs but generate blood flow, which would further promote healing and new growth.

That’s exactly what it has done. When Michael returned to Coastal Integrative Healthcare again a couple of months ago for another check-up, he reported that his knee pain was virtually nonexistent and that he was resuming normal activities.

“The pain in my right knee is completely gone,” Michael confirms. “I still had some pain in my left knee then, but that’s because x-rays showed I was nearly bone on bone in that knee, so I got a booster shot to help that. Now, my flexibility is almost back to normal.

“I work with another captain who told me recently that when I first came on this boat, he didn’t know how much longer I was going to be able to do this. But now, he sees me getting on the boat, and he says I’m almost nimble.”

Michael chose to have the stem cell therapy in part because he knows two people who have undergone knee surgery, and both had bad experiences with it. He says the therapy worked for him and is glad he went to Coastal Integrative Healthcare to get it.

“They’re all great people, unlike a lot of doctors, who forget about you once you’re out the door,” Michael says. “Dr. Steflik has called me several times to check up on how I’m doing, and I really appreciate that. It shows how much he cares.”

Chuck agrees. He says he could tell just how much Dr. Steflik cares about his patients when he spoke during the seminar. He adds that he was not disappointed in any way when he actually became a patient of Dr. Steflik’s himself.

“Everyone there is very professional, but what really stuck with me is how friendly everybody is,” he says. “You go in for a treatment or for physical therapy and everyone greets you with a Hello and a How are you doing?

“It’s a great place, and you can take it from me, they do great work.”

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    • Coastal Integrative Healthcare

      The mission at Coastal Integrative Healthcare is to provide members of their community of Edgewater, New Smyrna Beach, and Oak Hill with quality care at affordable rates. They believe everyone deserves to receive specific and customized... Read More

    • Jason Schultz, MD

      Jason Schultz, MD, earned his Doctorate of Allopathic Medicine from Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda, California, and completed his emergency medicine residency at St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network in Bethlehe... Read More

    • Timothy Steflik, DC

      Timothy Steflik, DC, is a licensed doctor of chiropractic who graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Port Orange, Florida in 2011 and now serves as the clinic director and president of Coastal Integrative Healthcare. He is an adj... Read More

    • Greg Salter, MSN, ARNP

      Greg Salter, MSN, ARNP, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science/Pre-Med from University of Tampa. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Bethune-Cookman College and earned his Master of Science degree in N... Read More