Stem cell treatment in Panama shows signs of hope for local Belle Fourche boy

By Karla J. Flack, Black Hills Pioneer

James Habeck and his mother Melissa

James Habeck and his mother Melissa

BELLE FOURCHE — Three-year old James Habeck and his family have returned from a medical trip to Panama. His mother Melissa Habeck said they are noticing signs of improvement as a result of the stem cell treatment James received at the Stem Cell Institute in Panama City, Panama.

Treatment is hoped to provide James with relief from some of the complications caused by his cerebral palsy and allow him to do things a toddler would normally be able to do such as talk, sit-up, walk, turn himself over in bed at night so he would have fewer sleeping issues, and use his hands and feet. Some with James’ condition have tight muscles, but James’ muscles are just limp.

Medical professionals told Melissa that the new stem cells would live actively in James for six months. During those six months of cell life, whatever James learns and the strength he gains should remain.

The Habecks returned to Belle Fourche June 7 and shortly thereafter James’ extensive line-up of therapy treatments began. He is on a fast track of learning and is currently undergoing speech, occupational, and physical therapies in both Rapid City and Belle Fourche.

This week he was fitted for a wheelchair and evaluated to see if an augmented and alternative communication device could help him communicate. If he can train his eyes to look at a particular item on the device his family will know what he is trying to communicate to them.

“They feel like he is stuck in his body, and that it is possible; he understands 75 percent of what I say to him,” Melissa said.
The Hebeck’s trip began May 31 and entailed an hour flight to Denver and six hours from Denver to Panama. James had never flown but he did well with the flights.

Melissa asked doctors why hospitals in the U.S. don’t offer the treatment James needs. The answer was FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulations.

A Southlake, Texas, center recently opened. The extent of services offered is not being released at this time. [Note: This statement is not accurate. The Riordan-McKenna Institute in Southlake, Texas treats orthopedic conditions such as knee injuries and arthritis and rotator cuff injuries with a combination of bone marrow aspirate concentrate and AlphaGEMS amniotic membrane product. More information can be found at www.rmiclinic.com]

The Habecks met an athletic coach who was receiving stem cell treatment in Panama for multiple sclerosis. He said he was walking with a walker prior to his treatments. A filming crew was with him documenting his progress as he no longer has to use a walker after undergoing multiple stem cell treatments.

Melissa said staff at the Stem Cell Institute said a number of autistic patients come there for treatment. Heart failure, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal cord injury, and autoimmune diseases are also treated at the institute.
James had stem cells that were extracted from donated umbilical cords injected intravenously into his arms. The injections went fine some days but other days were problematic because his veins would rupture and the medical team would have to find a new vein. Melissa said by the end of the week both her and James were crying, but the staff was excellent in dealing with it.

“They were using a butterfly needle to access the veins but collapsing veins were still an issue and James was getting tired of getting poked with needles,” she said.

Melissa said she has been in contact with individuals who tried stem cell treatments that were not successful. She said people who had their own cells taken and then transferred back into their bodies told her their treatments were unsuccessful. She also said some who had gone to other countries and did the spinal stem cell procedures said those results weren’t positive. Melissa said she feels very positive about James’ treatment.

He has a special walker that he can use if someone pushes it for him.

“He took off by himself in his walker after treatment,” Melissa said.

He has also started trying to use his arms and legs to stabilize himself. He has more neck control and is trying to use his neck to raise his head. He has also shown improvement in efforts to gain eye contact with those who are talking to him. He has to fight for control as his eyes both stray separate ways.

Melissa said that when James was younger he tried to walk but then stopped trying; then he tried to sit. She was told that often times people with cerebral palsy have to abandon one thing to learn something else. Treatment will hopefully allow for a number of items to be learned and motor skills to be tackled simultaneously.

“He cried when they took the iPad from his sight on the plane and when the augmented and alternative communication device was taken from him,” Melissa said. This type of expression in connection with wanting something has not been something he was able to do in the past. She was happy he cried to have it back.

The Belle Fourche community rallied around the Habecks with a fundraiser March 22 wherein $20,000 was raised for James to have the stem cell treatment. Belle Fourche Police Chief Scott Jones and Belle Fourche Fire Chief Kip Marshall were taped to a building while raising funds and businesses donated door prizes. The Naja Shriners clowns helped raise funds Danielle Butler, James’ caregiver, organized the fundraiser. Many people joined together to help James. Melissa said she couldn’t believe it when it became possible for them to go for treatment.