Skip to comments.Adult Stem Cells: Local Vision Awareness Rally shows hope for those with vision problems
Posted on 08/04/2007 8:29:00 PM PDT by Coleus
* During a Braille Institute of Florida summer camp, a Vision Awareness Rally was held at the Bayfront YMCA Center in Punta Gorda. Cameron Petersen, the nonprofit's poster child, along with friends, family and Stem Cells China's vice president of foreign patient relations participated in the forum type event.
PUNTA GORDA -- Cameron Petersen smiled quietly from his father's lap as Dr. Gail Ghigna-Hallas explained what is learned at the Braille camp. The 18-month-old poster child for the Braille Institute of Florida bounced and giggled, while Kirshner Ross-Vaden stood up and began telling the room about the stem-cell treatment the blond tot will receive in China in a couple of weeks. "That little one right there, he's on his way," Ross-Vaden, the vice president of foreign patient relations and the lead medical consultant with Stem Cells China, said, grinning and pointing at Cameron. The legally blind Port Charlotte toddler brought together families, kids like Cameron, Ross-Vaden and people from the Braille Institute of Florida during a Vision Awareness Rally Tuesday at the Bayfront YMCA Center.
Cameron has been diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia, a condition that causes underdevelopment of the optic nerve and can lead to permanent, total blindness. Doctors told Cameron's parents, Melissa VanGorp and Zachery Petersen, there was nothing they could do. But they, along with the boy's grandparents, began searching for help. They found Stem Cells China, Kirshner and a chance for Cameron to see. While in China, Cameron is scheduled to undergo four umbilical cord stem-cell transfusions of 10 million to 15 million stem cells each. He is one of five ONH patients to ever have this treatment, Ross-Vaden said.
The rally took place during a beginning Braille summer camp run by the Braille Institute of at the Bayfront Center. About 30 people came to hear Ghigna-Hallas, the program director of the nonprofit, talk about its programs, as well as meet Cameron and listen to Ross-Vaden further explain stem-cell treatments. "These kids are the first to come through with a primary diagnosis (of ONH). For the entire world, this had been called an untreatable diagnosis," she said. "In the history of medicine, no one had ever done that -- take a blind child and try to restore his vision." Jackson Blackford and his mother, Rachael Stayer, from Bowling Green, Ky., also traveled to Charlotte County for the event. The 7-month-old has the same condition as Cameron. After Stayer's uncle's friend from Venice sent a local story about Cameron to her, the mother contacted Stem Cells China immediately to enroll Jackson in the trial study. They are planning to fly to China in late October.
"Kirshner is a pioneer; these kids are pioneers -- and hopefully, this will be the cure," Stayer said after the rally. "I was told he'd have to learn Braille, but I wouldn't accept that. "The first heart transplant was a trial, so you have to start somewhere." Following the Food and Drug Administration's approval of about 80 other stem-cell procedures, Ross-Vaden is very optimistic -- especially with the recent news that another girl who received the treatments a couple of weeks ago is now seeing lights. "I may have very well just changed the course of medical history for kids with optic nerve hypoplasia -- one mom from suburban Chicago," Ross-Vaden said after the rally. Ross-Vaden, a registered nurse for more than 20 years who also served as an Air Force medic, first began researching stem cells when her son, Justin Lee, was born with severe brain injuries. Even with her medical research background, she found it hard to find reliable information. At the time, she took her son to Mexico for treatments. In 2006, she lost her son, but continues her work in his memory. "I feel he came into my life to put me into an area to help. His short two years will have remarkable impact for years to come," she said while holding back tears. "I'm making my son's life meaningful. To be able to come here and meet (Cameron and Jackson), that's why I work so hard."
She said that Stem Cells China has already begun collaborating with University of California-Los Angeles. Within the next six months, she said, because of their groundbreaking results, she hopes politicians and doctors in America will take note and step up. "I want my grandson to have what every other child should have --the right to crawl and see and play," said Carol Petersen, Cameron's grandmother. The Port Charlotte grandmother has become very involved in learning more about stem cells. "I want to help other little children like Cameron to have those rights too. There are more blind children in this country, and they need help." While holding Jackson after the event, Melissa VanGorp hugged the infant while her mother, Donna, bounced Cameron. The procedure in China costs around $20,000, and 12-month follow-up care involving a hyperbaric oxygen treatment chamber is also required. Cameron's family has raised the $20,000, and is hoping to raise another $100,000 to cover additional expenses. One trust fund has been established at Bank of America for Cameron Lee Petersen, and another at U.S. Bank for Jackson T. Blackford. More than 6,000 people have undergone stem-cell treatments at Stem Cells China, Ross-Vaden said. For more information about the treatment, visit www.stemcellschina.com.