A first-hand experience with stem cell treatment in pitching arm (cont.)
The World Anti-Doping Agency was skeptical at first, but has since stated that PRP treatment is not performance-enhancing as long as it is not administered with HGH or IGF-1 injections. As of Jan. 1 the agency has cleared PRP.
Once all my liquids were extracted, it was time to spin them. At 2,000 RPMs, my blood, fat and bone marrow were placed in a centrifuge for 13 minutes. This was the process that isolated the platelets.
After he took the containers out, Jeremy examined them and said, "Wow!" He told me I had a lot of usable stem cells. He said on average most people produce about 60 percent of what I produced. He said genetics and healthy living contributed to this.
We were getting closer to the final injections, but the second-to-last step was loading the bone marrow, blood and fat into syringes and putting them under an LED light. This light is apparently the latest and greatest thing in stem cell therapy.
The way it was described to me, this LED light kick-starts the cells. Each syringe was under the light for 20 minutes. Once those sleepy cells were awakened they were ready to be injected into my shoulder and become tiny miracle workers.
Because I am a producer of strong bone marrow and stem cells, there was a lot of liquid in each of the syringes. This was the most uncomfortable part of the day. Dr. Purita used a low radiation X-ray machine while injecting me. This machine could be moved around as he worked, and the images were in real time on two monitors above me. It helped him to find the most effective location for me to be injected. The injections came in my labrum first and rotator cuff second. More pinches and pricks, slightly unnerving but very tolerable.
The tightness and soreness in my shoulder was almost immediate. It was reminiscent of the PRP I had a year and a half ago but not nearly as bad. Dr. Purita believes he has the most advanced PRP system in the United States.
My arm was in pain the rest of the day and the flight home was pretty uncomfortable. The PRP intentionally inflames your muscles and tendons, and because your arm is inflamed you can't take any anti-inflammatory medicines for 2-3 days. As a pitcher, you know your body well and a handful of Advil would have hit the spot after the procedure, but also would have defeated the purpose.
I had been training and strengthening my shoulder for over a month before the treatment. That program will have to slow down a little because of the soreness, but to maximize the effects of this procedure I have to keep exercising. I'm hoping to be back in full training mode in a few days.
By all accounts I've read, Colon really dedicated himself during the time he had the procedure and that was just as essential to his successful comeback as was the therapy itself. Dr. Purita said Colon was pitching six weeks after the procedure.
I was given a host of natural supplements to take over the next couple months that will also help the stem cells do their work: Shark liver oil, L-Arginine, Melatonin and a product called Stem XCell. Dr. Purita ran these by the Major League Baseball Players' Association to make sure they were OK to take.
Certainly I hope this procedure gives me the results I'm looking for and a chance to do what I love again. But bigger than that is the future of stem cells in sports medicine. I'm fascinated when I think about what's going on in my shoulder right now.
I asked Jeremy if he thought this therapy could be used proactively. After a few years of professional baseball, all pitchers have tears in their arm to some degree. When I had my first MRI, Dr. James Andrews told me I had a rotator cuff and a labrum tear, but that the labrum tear had been there for years. I was amazed by this; I'd been pitching full speed for years with a torn labrum.
I wondered if after a long baseball season, stem cell and PRP therapies could be given to seemingly healthy pitchers to strengthen weakened and slightly torn ligaments and tendons. My thought was that they would decrease the chances of a pitcher getting seriously hurt. Jeremy said, "You know, that's a pretty good idea."
We'll see. It'll be pretty difficult to convince a healthy pitcher to intentionally inflame his arm and make it hurt temporarily because he'll be better off in the long term. In one form or another, though, you have to believe stem cell and PRP therapy is about to go mainstream in sports. It will take some more research and open-mindedness on the part of those who make decisions, most notably league commissioners and team doctors. It will also take time, but progress always does.
Check out C.J. Nitkowski's website, www.cjbaseball.com and follow him on Twitter, @cjnitkowski.