Kaden Strek, a 9-year-old boy from St. Clair Shores, Michigan, was pretty excited to correctly choose between a blue and a green toy turtle when asked to do so by his occupational therapist, Sara Wasser. What most would find to be a simple task is something that Kaden, who was born several months premature, would have been unable to do had it not been for stem cell treatments.
“This has given him a whole new kind of independence and control over himself that he’s never had,” Kaden’s mother Eddie Strek said. “It’s so exciting to see.”
Due to being so premature, Kaden suffered from a severe brain bleed as an infant. Later, he was diagnosed with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy and blindness. Kaden was only able to see some shapes, colors, and patterns. Today, he can see both primary colors and pastels. His speech has improved, and his mother believes even his walking and balance is better.
The cause of such drastic improvements, his family believes, is eight stem cell therapy treatments that the family has traveled to China to receive. The Streks are now raising money for the next treatment, which they hope will take place next summer. With a price tag of over $38,000 for treatment and travel expenses, it’s not a decision the family takes lightly. Critics disagree with the safety of traveling overseas for procedures like this, but Beike Biotechnology, the firm that handles Kaden’s stem cell procedures, treats over 200 patients per month.
Larry Goldstein, director of the University of California San Diego’s stem cell program, is one of the critics. Concerns about the source of the stem cells and possible risks weigh heavy on many minds.
“That is what clinical trials are for,” said Goldstein. “Every disease fluctuates in symptoms, and kids with developmental diseases tend to continue developing albeit at different rates. How does one know whether the transplant caused improvement versus intensive physical therapy versus fluctuation versus normal developmental improvements that would have happened anyway?”
Kaden’s mother disagrees and says that Kaden has been receiving traditional therapy and treatments all of his life. He also does occupational therapy and speech therapy four times a week. Wasser was surprised by the results, as Kaden has regained not only eyesight, but also use of the left side of his body.
“I’ve been an OT for over 10 years, and this is the first patient I’ve ever had who has regained vision,” Wasser said. “For him, it’s really teaching him to use something that he never had before.”
“These are tangible results,” Eddie Strek said. “Anyone that knew him before and sees him now, you can see the results. He’s a different kid.”
Vision doesn’t seem to the only thing that’s improved for Kaden since his China trip. Regarding the video below, Eddie adds that this is, “Kaden working on balance with his amazing teacher Rose. Before China his record for standing alone was 2 seconds. He now averages 1 minute (and has made it as long as 3!)”