Murray Howe, Hockey legend Gordie Howe's son, discusses stem cell therapy and his father's recovery

By way of introduction, I am Murray Howe, hockey legend Gordie Howe’s youngest son. I am married with 4 grown fantastic children and a fantastic spouse. I am blessed beyond measure, and it is my goal to love and serve our heavenly Father through service to others. It is my hope that in sharing with you today, that my blog improves the quality of life for at least one reader or their loved one.

I completed my undergraduate, medical school, and diagnostic radiology training at the University of Michigan Medical Center, where I still return to serve on the admissions committee and provide lectures for radiology residents. I trained an additional year at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, focusing on MRI imaging of joints in athletes. I then moved to Toledo, where I have practiced radiology for the past 23 years.

Before I chronicle the events that our family experienced in my father’s recovery, I wish to underscore the concerns of a few skeptics, because the concerns are valid, and I applaud skeptics for caring enough to voice them:

1. We all should exercise caution when seeking out “miracle cures” for our loved ones. 

For the well-being of our wallets as well as our loved ones, it’s important that we learn as much as we can, and weigh the information carefully before proceeding.

2. More research into stem cell therapies is needed.

In fact, based on what I have learned, and personally witnessed, stem cells seem poised to profoundly improve the quality of life for all mankind. It shows promise for a myriad of debilitating neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, and autoimmune disorders including stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, dementias, arthritis, MS, ALS, cerebral palsy, congestive heart failure, heart attack, and diabetes, to name a few.  It would behoove all nations to prioritize the research and development of cellular therapies.

I completely understand the position of skeptics. My father’s response was so miraculous, that I would have found it hard to believe had I not witnessed it firsthand. Researchers and physicians practicing in the U.S. and Canada are currently at a disadvantage with regard to knowledge or expertise in the treatment of patients using adult, donor stem cells. Much of the work in this field has been accomplished in Russia, including the ground-breaking work of Dr. Nikolay Mironov who pioneered the use of protocols using two different types of stem cells, as was used in my father’s treatment. Perhaps the U.S. physician most experienced in treatment at this time is Dr. David Howe, who was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Mironov.

There are currently over 50 registered clinical trials worldwide for investigating stem cell treatment for stroke patients, including a trial at UCSD using Stemedica adult allogenic stem cells. As these trials begin publishing their results over the next few months to years, hopefully this will catalyze even more U.S. and Canadian based trials.  The future looks promising.

My father’s recovery as outlined below is surely anecdotal. It is not definitive scientific proof that stem cells are safe and/or effective for everyone. I have not submitted my father’s case as a formal case report in a medical journal. I am just a loving son who happens to be a physician, and has been asked to share his story. But although anecdotal, my father’s response is by no means unique. It can be added to the ever-growing number of patients with remarkable responses to treatment in studies worldwide such as those conducted by Mironov.

Now for the play by play:

October 26, 2014 my father suffered a left thalamic stroke, resulting in severe right arm and leg weakness, and difficulty speaking. He was initially unable to walk, and could mumble only a few words. Over the following two weeks he showed some improvement, able to walk as much as 10 labored steps with a walker. He then steadily declined, despite the efforts of speech, occupational, and physical therapists, and became bedridden, unable to feed himself, and barely able to communicate. The following press release chronicles what transpired next:

Official press release Dec 19, 2014

Following the press coverage of our father’s deteriorating medical condition, the Howe Family was contacted in late November by Dr. Maynard Howe, (CEO) and Dave McGuigan (VP) of Stemedica Cell Technologies. McGuigan knew our family as a result of his previous employment with the Detroit Red Wings. Stemedica is a biotechnology company that manufactures allogeneic adult stem cells in its US government licensed, cGMP facility in San Diego, California. Although no relation, Dr. Howe and his brothers Drs. David and Roger are hockey players and big Gordie Howe fans, having grown up in Minnesota. They wished to help our father by generously facilitating Dad’s participation in a stem cell clinical trial at Novastem, a licensed distributor of Stemedica’s products in Mexico.

Novastem (www.novastem.mx) is currently conducting federally licensed and Institutional Review Board approved clinical trials for several medical conditions, including stroke, using Stemedica’s stem cell products. At the time we were contacted, Mr. Hockey had been rapidly declining and was essentially bedridden with little ability to communicate or to eat on his own.

After reviewing the information on Stemedica and Novastem, our family decided to give our father this opportunity. On December 8th, Mr. Hockey underwent a two-day, non-surgical treatment at Novastem’s medical facility. The treatment included neural stem cells injected into the spinal canal on Day 1 and mesenchymal stem cells by intravenous infusion on Day 2. His response was truly miraculous. At the end of Day 1 he was walking with minimal effort for the first time since his stroke. By Day 2 he was conversing comfortably with family and staff at the clinic.

On the third day, he walked to his seat on the plane under his own power. By Day 5 he was walking unaided and taking part in helping out with daily household chores. When tested, his ability to name items has gone from less than 25% before the procedure to 85% today. His physical therapists have been astonished.

His physical Medicine and Rehab doctor, his attending nurse, and our fathers multiple caregivers were equally astonished. These are all health care providers who work largely with stroke patients. None of them had ever seen such a remarkable, rapid recovery.

Since the press release our father has continued to improve, slowly and steadily. His quality of life is excellent, as he can do essentially all of the things he loves, including going for walks, running errands, playing driveway hockey, tossing a football, doing dishes, sweeping floors, and raking the lawn. He walks unaided, and can walk a half mile with short breaks. He still has severe short term memory loss, which he had before the stroke, possibly due to traumatic brain injury or a vascular type dementia. We are hoping for this to improve with time. Cognitively he is still otherwise excellent, having a great sense of humor and being able to converse in short sentences well. His long term memory remains intact. He is an absolute pleasure to be around, and his personality is intact.

Since the procedure, he eats like a horse, and rapidly regained the 25 pounds he had lost while bedridden. He also sleeps like a bear, sleeping 13 hours straight, then eating a huge breakfast, then sleeping another 2 hours before remaining awake for an 8 hour stretch. We are told this pattern has been observed in other stroke patients treated with stem cells. We have also been told that additional improvements can be seen sometimes out to 9 months post treatment. We have seen no decline in function since the treatment; only improvement.

Novastem has recommended repeating the stem cell treatment for my father at the 6 month mark, as their experience suggests additional gains can be had. They again are offering this at no charge to my father, because he is of course Mr. Hockey. We are planning to have this done in June.

The staff at Novastem picked up my father, brother, and I at our hotel in San Diego, and it was a short drive, perhaps 20-25 minutes to the clinic. I found the clinic to be squeaky clean and the staff to be very professional. The “clean lab” where the cells were prepared was visible through a window, where various quality assurance testing such as sterility and counting of the cells was performed. I was present while the anesthesiologist performed the lumber puncture in my dads low back using a tiny 25 gauge needle  to infuse the neural stem cells, and also when the internal medicine physician and nurse administered the mesenchymal stem cells through a one hour IV infusion. I was thoroughly impressed with their professionalism and sterile precautions. As good as any hospital I have worked in. I would have no reservations of having a loved one treated there.

Written by Murray Howe