My name is Laura Dominguez. I am 19 years old and live in San Antonio, TX. Three years ago, while on the way home from summer school, my brother and I were involved in a car accident that left me paralyzed from the neck down. The accident was caused by an oil spill on the highway. An oil spill that we had nothing to do with, but by chance was on the roadway in our lane. I suffered a C6 vertebrae burst fracture and my spinal cord was severely damaged. At that time doctors gave me absolutely no chance of ever walking again. I refused to accept their prognosis and began searching for other options.
After being hospitalized (in several hospitals) for almost a year, my mother and I relocated to San Diego, CA so that I could undergo extensive physical therapy. While in California, we met a family whose daughter was suffering from a similar spinal cord injury. They were also looking for other alternatives to deal with spinal cord injuries. After extensive research and consultations with medical experts in the field of spinal cord injuries, we decided the best procedure, that exists today, was being performed in Portugal. We teamed up with the Nader family, a group of Doctors from the Detroit Medical Center, and flew to Portugal to undergo this new surgical procedure.
The surgery involved the removal of tissue from my olfactory sinus area and transplanting it into my spinal cord at the injury site. Both procedures, the harvesting of the tissue and the transplant were done at the same time. I was the tenth person in the world and the second American to have this procedure done.
After the surgery, I returned to California to continue physical therapy. I stayed there until July of 2003 and then returned back to San Antonio, TX. At that time an MRI was taken and it revealed my spinal cord had begun to heal. Approximately 70% of the lesion now looked like normal spinal cord tissue.
I was also starting to regain feeling in my upper body and within six months I had regained feeling down to my abdomen. Improvements in my sensory feelings have continued until the present time. I can now feel down to my hip level and have started to regain feeling and some movement down to my legs. My upper body has gained more strength and balance. Another one of the most evident improvements has been my ability to stand and remain standing, using a walker, and with minimal assistance. When I stand I can contract my quadriceps and hamstring muscles. I can also stand on my toes when I am on my feet. And more importantly, while lying down in a prone position, I am able to move my feet.
My training has continued to this day and I am able to better use the muscles in my hip area. I am able, with assistance and the use of braces, to walk a distance of over 1400 feet. It takes approximately thirty minutes to walk this distance and it is extremely tiring, but it can be done. I will continue to challenge myself until I can fully walk again with little or no assistance from braces or the help of a therapist. I hope…no, I know…this will be possible by my 21st birthday.
It is my understanding that the nervous system is one of the most difficult and complex to repair after an injury or trauma. But in my case, the procedure that was performed in Portugal is working as I have regained more feeling and movement. Some of the movements that I am able to make are functions that are controlled by the very tip of my spinal cord. Although the intensive physical training that I had enhanced my ability to regain strength and movement, prior to surgery I did not have the type of function and feeling that I have now.
It only stands to reason that if adult stem cells can repair the complex functions of the spinal cord, they can repair and help other injured internal organs or other parts of the body, whether an injury is caused by trauma or disease. The way I see it, scientists have been given the knowledge and tools to develop and make use of adult stem cells, whether they are derived from tissue removed from the olfactory mucosa or otherwise. This knowledge should be taken full advantage of to help people overcome injuries that can be helped by stem cells or people that suffer from some terminal or debilitating diseases. At the very least, some people can benefit from the possibility of a better quality of life.
As posted on the Web site of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and reposted on Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics (StemCellResearch.org).