Dr Anne Small’s Stem Cell Journey – Joint Therapy

 In Dr Anne Small

My family members are riddled with Osteoarthritis (O.A). My father needed two hip replacements, an aunt needed a hip and knee replacement, another aunt needed two knee replacements.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise when aged 57 in 2008, I had to have my first hip replacement. This was despite having taken glucosamine/chondroitin since my mid-20s.

blog-stemcell-001In 2008, my non-operated hip still showed bone on bone OA but it was not painful and so I managed it with fortnightly Osteopathic manipulation and seaweed sheets. Yes seaweed – there was one Sydney experiment that showed taking seaweed daily decreased the pain of OA. All was going well until mid-2015 when I was on holidays in Croatia (lovely place). Most of the towns we visited have cobbled streets and I spent hours walking on these uneven surfaces. Finally one night my non-operated hip sort of collapsed in pain!

However, we still had two more weeks of holidays so I limped around Slovenia and Estonia. By the time I came back to Australia my left knee (which had been pain free before I left Australia) was very painful as well as my left hip. MRI of my left knee showed severe O.A, and virtually no cartilage on my femur and tibia and a torn meniscus – it looked bad. The painful left O.A hip was easily fixed with a total knee replacement in December 2015. Now I have what I call ‘my twin aliens’.


Dr Julien Freitag is leading the world-first study where stem cells are being used to regrow damaged knee cartilage / Photo Eugene Hyland

So now to my O.A left knee. My Orthopaedic surgeon, Mr Jonathan Baré, performed an arthroscopy in October so that I could at least walk after my forthcoming hip replacement. Mr Baré said he’d see me soon for a total knee replacement. I was not happy with that plan because I’ve heard of many problems post knee replacements. So I decided I would try Stem Cells – the idea being that these cells would grow cartilage in my knee, the pain would go and no knee replacement.

To this end I found Dr Julien Freitag from the Melbourne Stem Cell Centre (the doctor who featured in the Herald Sun front page story in March about Stem Cells). He explained that by just injecting Stem Cells into the knee joint would ease the pain (for a while – bum!) but eventually I would need a knee replacement. However, there was a new technique to shave the subchondral plate (where the cartilage is made) and inject Stem Cells straight into the bone (hence the success of the patient in the Herald Sun story). I set off to see the Orthopaedic surgeon who was meant to do this operation but he declined to do it stating I was not old – not happy Jan!

Anyway, I had my Stem Cells harvested in November via liposuction! I was looking forward to having a 6 pack tummy but they have to inject more than 300mls of fluid into our abdomen to ease the pain when they virtually suck the fat out of your abdominal wall – it sounds awful. Hence, I ended up looking 6 months pregnant for a number of weeks.


Dr Frietag works on Dr Anne Small

Knowing that I couldn’t have the knee operation (just the Stem Cell injections) I wondered what else I could do. One helpful patient who was a vet suggested Hyaluronic acid which they give as an injection into the joints of horses to stop arthritis. It has recently become available in an oral form so in February I started taking Hyaluronic acid. I cannot recommend it to you medicolegally because it is meant to be for ‘equine use only’. Hyaluronic acid is the substrate for cartilage and is used in the cosmetic industry as an anti-aging cream – wonder what I’ll look like in 6 months?

Another substrate for cartilage is gelatin and I’ve started taking Collagen Peptides from www.vitalproteins.com – which I can recommend. So, full of Hyaluronic acid and collagen peptides, I had my first Stem Cell injection on 11 April done by Dr Julien Freitag.

blog-stemcell-003Dr Freitag injected 3.5 mils of thousands of Stem Cells directly into my knee joint having given some local anaesthetic first to ease the pain. It wasn’t painful and now it’s a just a bit stiff and swollen. I need to be non-weight bearing to allow those lovely little Stem Cells to develop into cartilage cells and then decide that my knee is their new home.

I will have my other non-painful, but I’m sure arthritic, knee injected on 18th April. Then I have to wait some months before a repeat MRI to see it it’s all worked – otherwise knee replacement for Christmas!

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