MADISON, WI - MARCH 10: Jessica Dias, associate research specialist, at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at University Wisconsin-Madison removes a new batch of Embryonic Stem Cells from deep freeze to be thawed before being worked on March 10, 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin. On March 9, 2009 President Barack Obama signed an order reversing the Bush administration's limits on human embryonic stem cell research. Scientists at the University Wisconsin-Madison, who were the first to experiment in finding cures to neurological and muscular diseases through stem cell research, are now hoping to receive federal funding to aid in their work. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis fourteen years ago, Judi Lecoq had difficulty walking for years.
"I could probably stand on my legs for about five to ten minutes, but it would be excruciating," said Lecoq.
Eventually the 50-year-old Texas native was forced to shut down her catering business and use a cane.
As her disease progressed, and with it her desperation, Mrs. Lecoq decided to take a chance on a controversial treatment and checked herself into the Stem Cell Institute in Panama.
Once there she underwent adipose stem cell treatments for a month.
"The fat cells are extracted through a mini-liposuction. It’s a very simple procedure, you are asleep and there's really no pain," she said.
Her stem cells were pulled from the fat, then put back into the body through an IV. She also received stem cells from the blood of umbilical cords.
"Those would be delivered to me in my spine. It sounds terrible, but it really wasn't bad. You get a little injection of local anesthesia and those stem cells would go to the nerves, where with MS, the nerves are damaged," said Lecoq.
After several treatments and physical therapy, Lecoq said she started to walk again without pain.
"My balance isn't perfect and I still need to have another treatment, but there have definitely been major changes," she explained.
"You pretty much quit living, you don't spend time with your family and that kind of stuff," said Walker, whose physical balance is now restored.
Director of research at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dr. Spencer Brown has expressed some reservations about the fast-moving field of stem cell treatments.
"We've heard the benefits but we don't know what the risks are. It’s not yet known how long or how well the treatments work… the push is to get that data, learn what happens, what do these stem cells do, are they safe, if they are injected into the spine, or injected into the blood, do they go where they are supposed to, do they do what they are supposed to do or do they just go away?”
The Food and Drug Administration is also waiting on results such as the ones Brown mentioned.
The same experimental therapies have treated cancer, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and Celiac disease.
For now, the stem cell treatments offer hope, making a trip to South America worth a try for people suffering from degenerative diseases.
"This is going to be a new tool, a treatment option. That is the hope in the future," said Brown.