Scientific advancement offer hope for spinal cord-injured patients in future
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, September 15, 2012
9/15/12 at 4:35 AM
Related story: John E. Hoover: The risks they take - catastrophic injuries raise the fear factor of football.Original Print Headline: Scientific advancements offer hope
Nov. 29 marks the 20-year anniversary of the day University of Tulsa alum Dennis Byrd broke his neck playing football for the New York Jets.
Byrd rose and walked, 10 weeks later with canes into a press conference, and the following season with no assistance onto midfield at the Meadowlands. It was a testament to Byrd's undiminished will and to his unyielding measure of faith. It also was a great victory for daring new advances in neurological science.
Twenty years later, strong will and strong faith are still great allies of patients of spinal cord injuries. But now, science is giving them even more hope.
"The big glimmer of hope is actually stem-cell therapy and research," Dr. Burak Ozgur, a double-board certified spinal surgeon and neurosurgeon in Newport Beach, Calif., told the Tulsa World this week.
"I've seen amazing recovery improvements from patients that traveled to different countries and had some experiments done. And we've also seen some that just spent a lot of money and had a lot of hope and nothing happened. So it's still in the early stages.
"But I would say I do have great hope with increasing the science and research, particularly around stem-cell work, that I think we can actually give some improvement, even to the complete and incomplete spinal cord-injured patients. I think in the future, we will have better results."
Ozgur said he was troubled to see Tulane football player Devon Walker suffer a "devastating" injury to his neck and spinal cord last week in a game at Tulsa.
But Ozgur said medical advances have given hope where perhaps there was none.
"I've done some work at the Christopher Reeve Foundation here in Southern California, doing some research with stem cells, and there's a lot of exciting work," he said. "Right now in this country, a lot of it's in the animal stages, with rats and others. There are some higher-level tests, but it's very difficult to do some of those tests in this country. But there are some exciting reports coming out, and we've seen with our own eyes, rats with complete (spinal cord) injuries and we treat them with stem cells and then they're able to actually move their tail and move their hind legs. That gives us hope.
"We know that the spinal cord wants to recover. It wants to grow back. It's actually trying. The big issue is actually the scar tissue that grows in between the nerve fibers and in the cord and that's what prohibits the growth. So a lot of the work is going around preventing the scar tissue so the nerve and the body can heal itself. I'm very optimistic there will be more we can do now than the grim prognosis that we give a patient sometimes."
Ozgur said even in cases of complete spinal cord injuries, there are "some amazing orthotic devices out there" that provide mobility to patients who previously were bedridden.
Ozgur also said such phenomena as Internet prayer groups shouldn't be discounted in the name of science.
"Western medicine hasn't really proven or hasn't given it validation, just like acupuncture or other Eastern treatments don't get validation," he said. "But I can tell you in my own practices, I've seen patients have dramatic and sometimes surprising improvement from things we can't appreciate."
Dennis Byrd of the New York Jets is attended by team trainers and medical personnel after being injured during a game in 1992. Associated Press file