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Spinal Cord Injury Stem Cell – Interview Three With Ryan

All the therapists here, they're very innovative, they care about you, they like to think outside the box and dedicate their time to your therapy.

Spinal cord injury stem cell treatment is an approach which uses stem cells to help the damaged tissue in the spinal cord recovery. In his third progress interview, Ryan Straschnitzki, who received epidural stimulation treatment for spinal cord injury, discusses the stem cell treatment he also received and how his return to sport is going. With Hanna Charles, Director of Patient Representatives, he answers questions on all sorts of topics, including bladder, bowel and sexual function, exercise and his biggest achievements.

We're here with Ryan. This is the last episode we're making. Can you tell us about your last week and your progress? I've heard you've done some fun activities.

Yeah. I've learned to balance in my sled, they’ve set up a programme to help me balance my hips and my core for balance and stability. I’m also getting better at the stepping programme, which is taking a lot of work, but it's progress. So it's not easy, but I'm enjoying it.

Good! So we have some more questions that got sent your way. Have you noticed any further improvements in your bowel and bladder function?

Yeah, so for bowel and bladder, I think using the core programme and the exercise you get through the stimulator helps everything flow a little better and everything's easier in the morning.

What would you consider your biggest achievement after the treatment?

Getting back to my sled right away after my back healed is pretty important to me and having that core stability as well is huge. I think it'll help me improve my [ice hockey] game. Practicing was good, it was exciting being back in there. The core program helps a lot and I wasn’t expecting it, but it surprised me. They are optimizing the device specifically for my training. They have all the other programmes set, for stepping and other activities, but they made sure there was an extra program for me for sled hockey.

You are an athlete so would you think a regular person could see the same results?

Absolutely. I mean, my athleticism is just something I grew up with. But I think any normal person who got the epidural stimulation will be put through physio and hard work and I think anyone could do it.

How many hours per day did you exercise before coming here?

That’s tough. I mean, some days I took off but on a regular day, roughly four hours of activity. It's important for me to stay in shape and be in peak physical condition. So similar to what I do here, about 6 hours and I think it’ll be the same when I go back.

Have you seen any improvements in your sexual functions?

I haven't, no, not right now, but it's kind of a waiting game, with the stem cells. Over time hopefully, the epidural stimulation will help the regeneration of my spinal cord.

Hopefully, yes!

Would the epidural stimulation work if you have a baclofen pump?

I'll answer this. The baclofen pump is used for patients with severe spasticity. Usually it's not a contraindication, so patients with a pump can receive the epidural stimulation without any problems. In the longer term, the stimulator can also help with spasticity, to reduce it and bring it to more normal levels.

So, with your bladder improvements, can you hold urine for longer?

I think it kind of all depends on the person but for me, I think training your bladder over a long period of time helps, and the more you train it, the more you’ll be able to hold.

So the next question is about the device being implanted. So especially I think, for you it’s a good question since you're so into sports. Do you have to be extra careful about the implant in your spine? Can you feel any difference when it's implanted?

For me, having no sensation below the chest, I don't really feel it, but you do have to be a little bit careful. But I had extra padding in my [ice hockey] sled, padding everywhere so I'm pretty much protected.

Does it in any way restrict you from performing daily activities?

When you're healing, in the first couple of weeks, you want to let it heal, you don't want it to reopen, so it's kind of a waiting game. But after that, I think you're still free to do whatever you want to do.

How soon do you think you can go back to sports?

As soon as the doctor clears me, which is next week. So it's been about four weeks of healing and I’ll be back in sports next week.

How many people have done it so far and how many improved?

So here in Thailand, we've treated more than 70 patients and so far we're seeing results in everyone, including standing and stepping in the majority of the patients.

So is your stem cell treatment finished and what did you think?

Yes, I had three sessions in one week and that’s all for now. It's tough to say what I think. Everybody's different and it's kind of a waiting game, so I’m just waiting to see the results but I feel great.

Usually it takes us a few months to see the full results of the stem cell treatments. So hopefully, when we follow up with you, we will be able to see some more improvements in your sensory functions.

Another question is about your autonomic functions and your blood pressure. Do you feel it's something that is restricting you and is it getting better or are you still struggling with it?

It's something that I've been working on for the past year and a half. When the stimulators are on for certain programs I think my blood pressure can increase and it helps me with the standing and stepping programmes. So definitely it's helpful.

Okay. So, where were the stem cells taken from?

For Ryan, we are using stem cells from human amniotic fluid. These are stem cells that are the closest to embryonic stem cells, but they're not embryonic, so there are no risks associated. These are non-frozen cells, we never freeze them and we prepare them fresh for every patient for each injection.

How's the food at the hospital and is it similar to hospitals in Canada?

The food is good. I mean, you have a lot of choices and get to experience different food. I think every hospital has similarities, but it's a little different here because being an inpatient, you have a pretty decent room. You have a physio right outside your door, it's pretty easy to get around and the nurses treat you very well.

The last question we have for today is whether there is a waiting list for the treatment?

Actually, sometimes yes, sometimes no. December is a little quiet here because many patients want to spend Christmas at home. But then there are months like January and February that are quieter so it's good to plan, maybe at least two or three months in advance.

So Ryan, I know that next week you're joining the local hockey team!

Yeah, I think they’ve found ice for me and Tim Hortons back in Canada is sponsoring the ice so I'm very thankful and excited to get back.
The above is not a verbatim transcript of Ryan’s interview and the exact wording and order of words have been edited to be read more easily. You can watch the full interview on our Facebook channel.

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