Paralyzed during a high school baseball game in 1998, Suffolk teacher now hopes to walk again
John Tice is ready for his miracle.
After 18 years in a wheelchair, the Suffolk school teacher believes new advancements in stem cell research could make it possible for him to walk again.
Tice, 37, is being treated at a south Florida therapy center that uses an individual’s own stem cells to regenerate damaged muscle, bone and nerve tissue.
In his senior year of high school in 1998, Tice was paralyzed from his chest down after colliding head first into a catcher’s knee at home plate during a baseball game and breaking his neck. He hopes new technologies in stem cell therapies will help him restore some lost function.
“The ultimate goal is to regain full function and walk again – to ride bikes and play baseball with my children,” Tice said. “But if that’s not the case, any return would be a blessing.”
In July at the South Florida Stem Cell Center in Davie, Florida, Tice had 300,000 of his own stem cells implanted into his vertebrae. Two follow-up treatments are pending at six month intervals.
Tice had researched stem cell therapies for several years before contacting the Florida center, he said. While results are not guaranteed, Tice said he has already experienced some improvement.
“I’ve been able to move my left finger and I’ve not been able to do that for 18 years.” Tice said. “I’ve been able to flex the muscle in my left quad (thigh) muscle. I’ve been able to make a fist with my left hand and I was unable to do that before.”
Dr. Melvin Propis runs the center where Tice underwent treatment. The center is site No. 46 of national clinical stem cell trial locations in the country, sanctioned by the National Institutes of Health.
“Stem cell therapy is 21st century medicine,” Propis said by phone. “The previous paradigm was to look outside of the body to fight diseases. We’re now realizing that there are already cells in the body that can heal the body.”
Since the late ‘90s, the practice has moved from the experimental to the developmental stage, “meaning it does work,” Propis said. “We know it works, but we don’t know how much.
“It takes a while to find out what it can and can’t do, trying to figure out how often to use it, what is the best dosage, how often do you give it and who will best respond.”
Over the past two-and-a-half years, Propis has performed nearly 300 stem cell therapies, he said. It’s a one-day, outpatient procedure which usually takes less than an hour and with little discomfort.
In none of his cases has there ever been a rejection or downside, Propis added, “because we’re just injecting their own cells back into them. And the cells keep reproducing themselves for at least a year-and-a-half.”
Stem cell therapy is being used to treat more than 25 diseases and conditions, Propis said, but its best results have been in treatment for emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes and erectile dysfunction. He agreed to treat Tice because he still had some nerve function many years after the injury.
“He is what is called an incomplete quadriplegic, meaning there are still some nerves,” Propis said. “Since they could still contract muscle, it was worth a trial.
“A complete quadriplegic means there is nothing going on from the neck down, and I don’t even take their money.”
Tice plans to return to Florida in January for what could be a second treatment. Propis cautions, however, that follow-up therapies are usually based on progress from the initial treatment, especially since the cells should be reproducing for another year.
Tice already considers himself very fortunate, regardless of the outcome of the procedure. His wife of 13 years and high school sweetheart, Sheree, has remained with him since the injury. The couple attended college together, took the same classes and graduated at the same time.
“She’s my angel,” Tice said of Sheree. “I couldn’t have gotten through this without her.”
“I never considered leaving him,” Sheree said. “Friends had asked me about it, but I always told them (he’s) still the same person. He may not be able to do the things that he could do prior to getting hurt, but he’s still the same person.”
The couple are parents to 7-year-old twins, Kylee and Colton. Kylee is dad’s chief trainer and motivator for his daily rehab therapy.
Both children play baseball for a Western Branch Pinto League coached by Tice and his father, John Sr. The children attend Northern Shores Elementary where both parents also teach.
Stem cell therapy costs about $10,000 per session and is not covered by insurance plans or government subsidies. Tice has held fundraisers to help defray expenses, and friends have set up a GoFundMe page for him at www.gofundme.com/2b2xcnd8, where about $16,000 of the needed $30,000 has been raised so far. Donations also can be sent to Northern Shores Elementary School, c/o John Tice, 6701 Respass Beach Road, Suffolk, VA 23435.
Propis said that, so far, Tice is doing well. Propis monitors Tice’s progress via videos forwarded to him regularly. The extent of Tice’s recovery will be determined in January.
Tice finds himself on the cutting-edge of scientific breakthroughs that could help him and provide data to help others.
“I’ve never been a person to give up on anything. I’ve never let my injury stop me, and for me this is just another step in the process to better myself,” Tice said. “I see this as an opportunity to get better for myself and for my family.”
“The future of this therapy is almost as much as you can imagine,” Propis said. “Whether to rebuild or re-grow entire organs, re-grow a finger or a leg, it’s almost as much as you can imagine.
“If the body can do it normally, someday we should be able to reproduce it.”
By: James Thomas Jr., Correspondent
For: The Virgin Pilot
Interview with Dr. Melvin M. Propis, M.D.
Dr. Melvin Propis is the Principal Investigator for the South Florida Stem Cell Center located in Davie, Florida (near Ft. Lauderdale). Dr. Propis is a seasoned M.D. and surgeon who, for more than 30 years, has performed ENT Head and Neck Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery and has enjoyed a tremendous success rate in stem cell therapy for a vast range of Cardiac-Pulmonary, Immunological, Neurological and Other conditions (including SCI, Diabetes, Osteoarthritis, and Erectile Dysfunction).
Recently Dr. Propis spoke with RSCI about his medical work, as well as his roles as a mentor, public speaker, and professional artist and sculptor.
I’m really blessed in that I love what I do. I’m 72 now, and I consider the next five years the last chapter of my medical career, before sharing my diverse knowledge and experience as a full-time teacher and mentor for both students and other physicians.
When I was an ENT cancer surgeon, people were very thankful for what I did for them – specifically removing their cancer. And, when I went into cosmetic surgery, I found that not only were patients happy, but it nicely complemented my pleasure as a professional artist and sculptor.
Then, about 8 years ago, I was at a medical conference and by accident walked into a room where a speaker was talking about stem cells, which I had heard of, but knew nothing about. I didn’t leave the room until the presentation finished. I knew at that moment that stem cells were the future of medicine, and I wanted to learn all I could about them. In the beginning, it was all self-learning. There were no textbooks, so I devoured journals, took courses, found mentors, and learned all I could for about 4-5 years when I felt ready to start a practice.
Now, my passion is to teach as many doctors as possible how to do stem cell therapy. Stem Cell Therapy is 21st Century medicine, and we’re just at the beginning. It’s going to continue to improve in ways we can’t now imagine, totally changing the way medicine is delivered and what results it produces. If we just continue on the pace we’re at now, it’s likely that in two generations, the average American will live to the 100 year mark. And, I’m not just talking about existing – I’m talking about living because by injecting their own adult stem cells into their own muscles, bones, and other tissues, along with controlling chronic diseases and conditions, people will be healthy and strong. Stem cells will also be able to replace brain cells that are dying off, so people will also stay mentally sharp and active.
But, now, at the beginnings of the 21st century and its game-changing medicine, I know that some patients are still nervous about stem cell therapy, or on the other end of the spectrum, their expectations are too high. In fact, by the time most patients arrive at the South Florida Stem Cell Center, almost all have done their homework about stem cells and their condition, so I simply give them the most realistic appraisal possible:
• Since 1999 when the first paper was published on Adult Stem Cells, there hasn’t been one instance of tumor formation from their use.
• At my center, the process usually takes about 3 hours from the time the patient walks into the office to the time the patient walks out of the office. And, it’s very important to note the patient does walk out of our fully ambulatory surgical center, and in almost all cases can return to work the next day.
• Because we use only the patient’s own stem cells processed at our in-house lab, we have never had a single complication or infection or sent a patient to the hospital for adverse reactions.
• Most patients start to see improvements in 2-6 weeks, they continue until about 6 months, and then plateau at that level.
Some patients expect miracles, of course, to which we can only respond that miracles are rare. But, let’s also bear in mind that what we call a medical miracle these days may be standard operating procedure in 40-50 years.