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Howe family convinced controversial stem cell treatment has saved Gordie Howe's life

Hall of Famer Gordie Howe is scheduled to have a second stem cell treatment done in June in Mexico and why not? Since the first one was done in December, he has regained 40 pounds and has received a new lease on life at the age of 87.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

It is rare, almost unheard of, for the Canadian government to name anything after anyone who is still alive. But when plans for the Gordie Howe International Bridge linking Windsor to Detroit were unveiled Thursday, it was a clear sign of the respect and admiration that Mr. Hockey still commands.

But according to Gordie’s son and fellow Hall of Famer Mark, nobody would have had to worry about the government bending that edict if the family hadn’t elected to have him undergo stem cell treatment in Mexico in December. A second round of treatments is scheduled for early June.

In Mark’s mind, there’s no doubt his father would have died by now had he not undergone the stem cell transplant.

“He was basically on his death bed, so every day we have now is a blessing,” Mark said. “There’s no doubt in any of our minds that he wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t treated him. He had dropped 35 pounds in six weeks and he wasn’t going to live. It’s the first time I’ve seen my dad quit. He didn’t want anything to do with any speech therapy or anything like that and once that goes, you’re kind of toast.”

But since the stem cell therapy, Mark said his father has regained 40 pounds and is “holding his own.” He also said the fact his father is going for a second round of treatments should not be construed as a sign he is on the decline. When Howe got the first round of treatments, doctors recommended then that he have another one six months later, so they are following the medical protocol.

Howe received treatment that usually costs $30,000 for free, but in the long run it may cause both the medical community and politicians to look more seriously at the possibilities. The use of stem cells has been controversial and is not done in Canada or the United States, which is why Howe had to go to Mexico to have the treatment done in the first place. There hasn’t been enough research to determine definitively whether stem cells, and not a natural rebound, are definitively responsible for Howe’s improvement, but the fact that someone with such a high profile has experienced a dramatic improvement after the procedure raises hope that it could potentially cure disease and improve brain function.

Some people who have had the same treatment have come away with no improvement and nothing to show for it than lost money and lost hope. But Howe has rebounded remarkably and whether it’s because of the treatment or it was a case of his improvement simply coinciding with it is a question that might prompt more research. And that, in turn could lead to more trials getting funded. And that might be almost as important a legacy for Howe to leave as his Hall of Fame hockey career or having a bridge named after him.

The ceremony to mark the naming of the bridge was recorded so Howe can watch it and be reminded that it took place. Because of his dementia, Howe still struggles with long-term memory. “When you tell him stuff, he knows what’s going on, but he forgets,” Mark said. “If he remembers for 10 minutes, he’s had a good day. So we try to record everything and that way we can play it back for him.”

The stroke Howe suffered in October left him paralyzed on his right side and his condition deteriorated to the point where he was being offered palliative care at his daughter’s home in Lubbock, Texas. Now the Howe’s are talking of moving him back north to live in Toledo to live with his son, Murray, and of him going to a Detroit Red Wings game next season at the Joe Louis Arena. His condition still varies from day-to-day.

“On the good days he talks,” Mark said. “On the bad days it’s not so good, it’s more of a mumble. But it sure beats being six feet under."


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