‘I remember what it was like to have nothing – no feeling’

Published: February 14, 2004  |  Source: -
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Melissa Holley, the first person in the world to get macrophage injections for a spinal cord injury, is a believer.

“I can’t ignore the fact that I’ve gotten so much back,” said Holley, 22. “I’m very excited about (the procedure) coming to Denver.” In 2000, Holley severed her spinal cord in a car accident in her Western Slope hometown of Ridgway. The statistics say that just 3 percent of people with complete spinal cord injuries regain feeling below the site of the injury.

But her family took a chance, arranging a $9,000 flight by air ambulance to Israel, where she underwent the macrophage procedure.

Israeli doctors told the Holleys that the body’s own macrophage cells heal injuries, but that there aren’t enough of them near the spinal cord. By harvesting macrophage cells from another part of her body and injecting them in her spine, doctors hoped to “clear a path so growth could occur before scar tissue developed and inhibited it,” Holley said.

Now that the macrophage procedure is available at Craig Hospital in Englewood, the trip will be much shorter for injured people in the Rocky Mountain region and elsewhere the United States.

“It’s going to be open to more people without them having to go overseas at such a dramatic moment in their lives,” Holley said.

“I have a good degree of feeling, and some controlled movement in most of my major muscle groups,” said Holley, who attends Harding College in Arkansas.

She drives a Toyota RAV4 sport utility vehicle, can lift herself into the driver’s seat, take apart her wheelchair and throw it in the back. Hand controls enable Holley to accelerate and brake without using her legs.

She rides horses in the summer and swims a couple of times each week, about a half a mile per session.

“Craig is just always coming up with new things,” Holley said. “They have their hand in stem cell research, too. With such a complicated injury, it will take a complicated approach – more than one thing to knock this thing out.”

A spinal cord injury “is deemed so terminal these days,” Holley said. “But I remember what it was like to have nothing – no feeling or movement. Now I have pretty good feeling and some degree of control. Those are strides that seemed impossible at first.”

She also credits her improvement to her belief in God and to the fact that “I have a lot of positive people around me.”

“I can’t say what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to Israel,” she said, “but I definitely beat the statistics.”

Bill Scanlon

Copyright 2004, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.