It’s August 29 2019. My name is Dan Isbell. I’m a retired colonel from United States Air Force and a disabled veteran. Today, I’d like to share briefly the history of my career, how my injuries came about, and why I chose to seek help at the Stem Cell Institute, Panama City, Panama and it’s not all just about me. I want to help others because videos that I watched in preparation for my decision helped me make that decision. And I know there’s a lot of other especially military perhaps active duty and even disabled veterans that hopefully could have hope from learning with my experience and this might offer something for them.
So first let me briefly describe my career. I started out as a combat fighter pilot – Top Gun pilot. Then I was selected go to Test Pilot School. I became an experimental test pilot in the United States Air Force. Got to do a flight test a number of locations. Later, unfortunately, some flight tests are dangerous business. Lost 35 friends in my career. I’m lucky to still be alive but I had some incidents in the F-16 and in particular one where my aircraft exploded during a flight test mission. I was on the ground at the time so it didn’t crash but it disabled most the systems. I was trapped in the F-16 and canopy wouldn’t open. I was breathing in a lot of hot toxic gases as the airplane was on fire. The ground crew got me out and unfortunately, the damage to my lungs started to take a toll later in my career and really forced my retirement ultimately in 2004. So I’ve been retired about 15 years now.
Was fast tracked into the V.A. as a disabled veteran for the service connected injuries that I had. So, I went from being very, very fit flying 9-G airplanes, have been to the edge of space in the U2 in a space suitt seeing the curvature of the earth. Flown in a lot of different types of aircraft and my flight test career. Went to the gym, usually three times a week for weight training, and also did aerobics every day of the week, climb mountains, did snow skiing and many, many things, run marathon. So, I went from a level of extreme fitness to suddenly, I couldn’t get across the parking lot without being out of breath before I got to the curb. So, the degradation was very severe.
It began in about the year 2000 and unfortunately, the only things my lungs were responding to were prednisone steroids – very high doses. This started in 2000 to 2001, sort of got things under control but after I retired my health continue to degrade, and by 2012, literally, the situation became cataclysmic. It was a number of things that started to just break down, and my body was very diffuse case of what was finally, definitively diagnosed in 2012. The injuries had resulted in our bronchiectasis, as well as pulmonary sarcoidosis, and in my case those was a very diffuse form. It was affecting all of my body. My calcium levels were going super high. My uric acid was going high so I ended up with all of my joints locking up and being stuck in a wheelchair and very, very severe pain for several months until we got some of that under control with medications
I had about 18 emergency room visits, an ambulance ride where they had to stop my heart because I wouldn’t survive the ride if they didn’t stop it with an I.V. injection and then restart it to hopefully get it beating more regularly. Had an ICU visit after I crashed. I was admitted as an inpatient over 10 times and found over seven surgeries to try to deal with all of the things that had gone wrong with me. But in this particular case I went into septic shock and was in the ICU and they didn’t know if I would survive the night. They told my wife that might not be able to make it through. So in spite of all that, I’m still here. I had episodes where I was coughing up blood from my lungs and I’m home oxygen for a while, and a high dose of steroids had pumped my weight up to about 283 lbs. at the peak. I’ve lost about 70 of that now.
So anyway, that background should help you understand that my quality of life is not good. Bag of medicine every day: Nebulizer, steroids, all of these things, and to be trapped on prednisone steroid for the rest of my life was really not a good situation. When a flight surgeon, when I was still active duty, first prescribed it he said, “I don’t know how I feel about nuclear weapons but I’m about to prescribe one for you.” That was a very apt description because it’s not a precision drug. It has a number of very negative side effects, and after years of high dose steroids, it had caused bone loss to the point that I was diagnosed osteopenia. So the other things were that it had made the tendons in my body lose their suppleness and then I started having all sorts of tendon related pain and injuries.
So, I made the decision since there was nothing else and conventional medicine to help that if I found something that had promise and gave me hope, I would do everything in my power to actually go get that kind of treatment. My stepson, fortunately, had a friend in Los Angeles who had recently informed him about going to the Stem Cell Institute in Panama and how his very severe shoulder injuries were miraculous the results, and the pain going away and getting his function back.
So, my stepson shared that with me and said, “Look, so something you might want to check out. So I did. And having a research scientist background, he also informed me about Joe Rogan podcast that was available on YouTube. And it involved having Dr. Riordan, the head of the Stem Cell Institute in Panama, along with Mel Gibson and the story of Mel Gibson’s dad and how he went in his 90s, they were able to bring him back from the brink hospice to full functionality with these treatments.
So, I bought Dr. Riordan’s book. I read it cover to cover. I continued to do research on the Internet. Look at the pros and cons, look at the history of this. Watched every video that was posted at the Stem Cell Institute, many other personal YouTube videos that I could find related to this and the Stem Cell Institute. And made a calculated decision that I need to do something and that I was willing to take a chance that this procedure, particularly since there had been no known negative side effects and all the thousands of cases, that it was a risk worth taking. I applied under the autoimmune disease because that’s what pulmonary sarcoidosis is actually categorized as. I was accepted under that protocol and I traveled to Panama City, Panama October 15th of 2018 and began my treatment that week.
The treatment involved… First, there were three separate days where I got injections into alternate IV’s and my arm – just a normal I.V. injection about 40 millions of the mesenchymal stem cells each time, and also on that third day, they added the injections into my right hip that I had requested to try to get functionality back there. I’d had a surgery on the hip already but it didn’t give me full relief and I was still locking up after less than a block of walking, had to sit down on rollator and literally, try to let it come out of spasms so I could walk some more – very, very, very difficult. And visiting the Pentagon and places as a consultant, it really limited my ability to travel comfortably and perform properly.
So, I was looking for some help, not only with my lungs but also for that right hip that was an issue. So let me tell you what then next happened. That first injection, which took about 18 minutes and it seemed like the Star Trek Enterprise. You’re in a floor-to-ceiling glass room with… It’s not surgery. You’re in a nice comfy chair. You can see out on the Atlantic Ocean the entrance to the Panama Canal, all the ships out there and all the skyscrapers everywhere. In Panama is not like the Panama that I remember from 20 years earlier when I’d been there just before we turned over Howard Air Force Base to the Panamanians to actually run the Panama Canal and maintain it. Now, it’s like a little Dubai. There are skyscrapers everywhere. It’s very modern. There is every kind of restaurant, hotel. In fact, the hotel in the building that we stayed in is a 5-star Hilton but beautiful, beautiful with lots of restaurants and swimming pools and hot tubs. This is a very nice experience. It’s like a vacation if you want to think of it that way.
So, they met us at the airport, helped us with, right through customs very quickly. Nice ride already ready to go to the facility. Got there and checked in. Went to the hotel room and then the next day, began the process. So, after that first injection, I felt a little bit of malaise maybe a half hour later, like a generalized like you’re getting sick with something but it’s very mild and it’s subsided after about 45 minutes. And the instructions were just go back to your hotel room, which was filmed at 27th floor. The clinic’s on the 63rd floor of the same skyscraper.
So I did, and about five hours later I was lying in my bed. My wife, of course, accompanied me. And I set up in the middle of bed and I said, “Sweetie.” And she goes, “What?” She thought something bad it happened. I said, “I can breathe and it doesn’t gurgle, and I, it does, it’s not painful.” This is literally five hours after the first injection. So, I think most of those cells, you know, went directly there right away and started working on calming down my lungs and getting rid of the inflammation.
So, over the next course of days and after the injection my hip, I traveled back and I had not told my doctor, my pulmonologist, that I was going in advance of my trip. So, I had scheduled an appointment with her. She was pretty upset because she didn’t believe in this and thought there was maybe a lot of “witch doctory” out there about it and she was worried about my health. She was the only doctor I’ve ever had that gave me her personal cell phone number and said, “You text or call me anytime 24 hours a day or night when you run into crisis and I’ll be there for you.” And she has been for all these years since roughly 2012.
So, I really was not wanting to do this in the dark. Being, having a research scientist background, I wanted data so I told her, “Well, you know look, this is why I scheduled the appointment with you, because I want you to schedule labs for me, regular labs, so we can check on my progress, see how I’m doing. And then in the course of that, we’ll have some data to go along with my subjective feel about it.
She thought it’s just a placebo effect and one of her other elderly patients had blown his life savings at some place here in the United States that probably wasn’t at all the same kind of well-researched procedure. And it hadn’t done him any good. So, she just had negative background information and really didn’t understand it well. But she was willing to support me through the process.
So, the labs have all shown them my body pretty much has return to homeostasis. One of the things that I learned to keep track of was my oxygen saturation. So, before this procedure, I could be in the low 80s, especially at times when I had to go on home oxygen and literally carry an oxygen bottle around when me everywhere I went. And the best I could do on a good day was about 94 percent, which is not bad. I could survive on that, little hypoxic. The Sporiva helped and the nebulizer. And of course, the emergency inhaler that I carried everywhere I went because I was very sensitive to second-hand cigarette smoke after my lungs were damaged. Never been a smoker but I would have a bad reaction to it.
So the labs were showing good. My calcium, everything was back normal and by the way, I had chosen so that I didn’t interfere with the effects of the medicine, the stem cells in this case, not medicine. I had chose to stop all my pharmaceuticals before the procedure. And then I took them with me. You know, if there was an emergency I had them available but I didn’t take them because I wanted to see what the actual effect of the stem cells would be and not have a conflict between, “Is this the medicine that I’ve been taking or is this the stem cells that are doing this. So, having done that, I never needed to take the pharmaceuticals and still haven’t to this day needed to take all those medicines that I was on daily before.
My oxygen saturation is, within a month or two, it improved to, where they measure usually 99 to 100 percent, which is really miraculous and been pain-free breathing, having the ability to start exercising again. The steroids had brought my weight up to 283 lbs. at its peak. I’ve lost 70 of that already. Still got a few to go to get back to where I used to be and want to be. But I did a couple of other experiments. A month after I got back from Panama, I took a trip out to Utah where I’d been squadron commander before. I love the mountains out there and decided I wanted to test myself up to 11000 feet elevation, and look at the oxygen saturation and see how I’m doing because I couldn’t tolerate that kind of altitude exposure before. So i went out, did that, took the gondola up to the peak of the mountain for a ski resort. It was actually snowing, so it was really beautiful and, And so I measured my wife’s who’s not gotten wind damage as kind of a baseline. She’s slightly younger than me. And then looked at my oxygen saturation and I was doing right on exactly either the same as her or maybe a percent better than her. We went down to 8000 feet, had lunch at a beautiful cafe in the snow and and again, took samples there. And I was actually better than her at 8,000 feet so the subjective and the objective data were convincing me along the way that, yeah this is working.
By May of this year, I had made another trip out to Utah and actually went Zion National Park to do some hiking because my hip and recovered so that I no longer needed the rollater, no walker assistance, could not need the cane anymore, and literally chose a moderate intensity hike that was up a mountain to about 8000 feet elevation just to see how my lungs responded and how well my body responded. And I was able to climb that. Now granted, I’m not in full shape like I used to be. So I did stop occasionally and just rest and stretch some. But I made it all the way up without any assistance and no problems and felt great at the top and then all the way down.
So, that really gave me a lot of a lot of confirmation that I’d made the right choice. Anyway, I’m concerned that there’s a lot of veterans like me who, you know, have had injuries either active duty or, you know, they’re suffering now as disabled veterans from combat-related injuries. And I would like to make sure that this word gets out and they can have some hope like I’ve had. For me, it’s been miraculous and I really appreciate Dr. Riordan and the Stem Cell Institute. That he came up with this and then it’s made all the difference for me.
Thank you for listening. Have a great day.