Some call them the future of medicine, while others say they promote the destruction of life. While the controversy surrounding stem cells continues to stir debate across the country, two Grand Valley residents say they've proven to be the miracle cure that has given them hope.
Rusty Leech has spent the last ten years in a wheelchair, after an ATV accident crushed his spine and left him paralyzed below the waist.
"You kind of resign to the fact that this is the way it's going to be unless some miracle happened," said Leech.
In 2003, aspiring model Jordanne Menzies was in a serious car accident that broke her neck in three places. She has been a quadriplegic ever since.
"I've lost everything from the mid-chest down," said Menzies. "I can't feel or move anything. If I could get an arm back, that would be a miracle."
Both she and Leech say fortunately that miracle did come when they began to read about stem cell treatments around the world, and hear about the people whose lives were forever changed by them.
"There was nothing else out there that showed this type of promise, so we hoped," said Leech.
"I knew that there were other people that had the stem cells that got results from it, so I was hoping for results," said Menzies.
With hope in their hearts and minds, Leech and Menzies say there was no turning back.
In January, Menzies flew to Costa Rica to receive stem cell therapy. For one week, doctors injected umbilical stem cells into her veins and spinal fluid, and put her through physical therapy. Since then, Menzies says she's seen amazing results.
"I can already move my trunk, my stomach, and my back muscles," said Menzies. "So I've just been doing a lot of therapy to strengthen everything."
With muscle stimulation from physical therapists, Menzies says she has even started to regain some movement in her arms. She says her results are more than she could have ever hoped for.
"It makes me very happy," said Menzies. "I'm very happy to be seeing results and getting stuff back."
In November, Leech and his wife Kathy flew to India to receive treatment. For nine weeks, he underwent embryonic stem cell injections into his muscles, veins and spine. He was also put through intense physical therapy. Immediately, Leech says he noticed a change.
"I had heaviness in my muscles," said Leech. "My butt started feeling like it had weight to it, as well as my thighs and my feet."
But nothing could have prepared him and his wife for what came next.
"We didn't believe it would really happen to us," said Kathy Leech. "We've lived with it for ten years and we knew what he could and couldn't do. We never dreamed that it would ever happen the way it did for Rusty."
As Leech began to regain feeling in his hips and legs, and progressed through physical therapy, doctors equipped him with a walker and specially designed leg braces. Now, the man who has been confined to a wheelchair for ten years remembers what it's like to walk.
"It's like joy, gleefulness," said Kathy Leech. "It's fun. It's like it's given him part of his life back."
"It's pretty cool, "said Leech. "After you've been in a wheelchair, like me, for ten years you get so used to being at a certain level. When you stand up -- I'm six one -- everybody goes wow, I don't remember you being so tall."
Although he can only walk for about 20 feet now, the Leeches say they have more hope than ever that something they only dreamed of will become reality.
"It's coming," said Kathy Leech. "He's going to walk to the coffee pot in the morning, I tell ya."
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