YORK, Pa. — A York County soldier left partially paralyzed when he was shot in Afghanistan nearly two years ago is banking on stem cells to help him regain movement.
Matthew Hanes, 22, of Manchester Township will head to China in April to undergo surgery to repair part of his damaged spinal cord.
Doctors essentially will use minor surgery and stem cell therapy to build a bridge over two vertebrae that were shattered when Hanes was shot.
“At the minimum I’ll get at least some feeling back where I don’t have it in certain places, but I could get everything back if it goes well,” Hanes said.
U.S. Army Cpl. Hanes was shot while on patrol in Afghanistan in June 2012. He was left with limited use of his upper body and no use of his lower extremities.
RESEARCH: Soon after he returned to the U.S., Hanes began researching stem cell therapy as possible treatment.
That’s how he found Puhua International Hospital in Beijing, where he will fly on April 1 for the treatment. He’s slated to return stateside later that month.
“It’s coming up slowly now that I know it’s on,” Hanes said.
During his research, Hanes said he found the U.S. is “so far behind on stem cell” research compared to some countries in Asia, such as China, and Europe.
For years, the federal government imposed tight restrictions on stem cell research until it was loosened in 2009 by President Barrack Obama.
THE PROCEDURE: According to the hospital’s website, it treated 1,757 patients with spinal cord injuries from 2005 to 2013. Of those, 90 percent showed improvement and 80 percent showed significant improvement.
Hanes said he’s hopeful to be in the latter category, but said he knows results vary depending how each body receives the stem cells. He could go back for additional treatments.
“They’ll build what they call a nerve graft to build an artificial spinal cord in the section that got severed in the injury,” Hanes said.
That bridge will help recreate the flow of nerves in Hanes’ spinal cord. After that, he’ll undergo stem cell injections.
Hanes said he’s keeping positive thoughts as he prepares to fly to China with his mother, Chris; and the trainer of his service dog, Leslie Horton.
“I’m thinking positive about it,” he said. “Regardless, I’m getting a little something (improvement) and that’s good enough for me.”
RECOVERING: Since he was wounded, Hanes has been undergoing rehabilitation, including a months-long stint at a Florida hospital.
But Hanes received some added help about a year ago when service dog Jackson came into his life.
The German shepherd is trained to pick up things for Hanes and help him in and out of his wheelchair.
Community members, including businesses and students, also jumped in to help Hanes before he returned home a year ago. They donated time and money to make his parent’s home accessible for Hanes.
“I’m still adapting every day and am finding ways to do things every day,” he said. “It has been a long road since I’ve been injured.”
That could all change if the stem cell treatment proves successful.
“If he gets anything out of it, it’ll be good,” said his father, Lee Hanes. “I’m thrilled to death.”
By GREG GROSS