KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Northland woman had such poor circulation that she was at risk of losing a leg. Then she had experimental stem cell therapy.
"It's a beautiful foot," Dr. Keith Allen said to Theresa Wagner.
She has a healthy foot. It's the same one that was badly infected when we met Wagner four years ago. That's because she had very poor circulation in that leg.
Dr. Allen, a cardiovascular surgeon at Saint Luke's Hospital, said you should see a clear road map of bigger blood vessels in an image of the leg.
"What you can see is just this spider web of little tiny blood vessels," he said.
"I was going to lose my leg. I mean, it was down to the point where either do a stem cell trial or they amputate my leg because they had done everything else feasibly possible," said Wagner.
So she said "yes" to a study of stem cell therapy. The goal was to grow healthy vessels. She had bone marrow removed from her hip. In some participants, the stem cells from the marrow were injected into the leg and foot. Others got a placebo.
To this day, Wagner and Dr. Allen don't know for certain that she got the stem cells. The study was stopped early because of funding issues. But within a few weeks, Wagner noticed a difference.
"I could get on the treadmill and walk and it didn't hurt and there was no pain and it was like I had my 20-year-old legs back. It was amazing," she said.
"I'm pretty sure she got the treatment," Dr. Allen said.
Four years later, Wagner is still pain-free. She also had hyperbaric oxygen therapy to help heal her sore. She's had no more sores or infection.
Dr. Allen said the research is going slow in part because there's no financial incentive for companies.
"Nobody makes money off using your own bone marrow. They'd much rather sell you some highfalutin proprietary product. That can be a real problem," he said.
Dr. Allen is doing another stem cell study now that's similar to the one Wagner was in.
"It's been wonderful. Honest to God, I can't thank him enough and stem cells enough," she said.
Wagner was at high risk for vascular disease because of heredity and smoking. She says she quit smoking six years ago.