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Paralyzed Louisiana man to have experimental spinal cord surgery

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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) – A young man from Louisiana is traveling across the world, hoping to get help for his paralysis. On January 18th, he is scheduled to go to Portugal for an experimental procedure, he hopes will help him gain more mobility.

Tommy Mead is a full time student at a Baton Rouge community college. In 2007, a spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the waist down. But his upper body mobility is also limited.

“If I were to raise my hand, this is all I can do,” he said as he raised his hand to shoulder height. “I don’t have finger function, but I do what I can do.”

His positive attitude helps keep him going. Tommy intends to be a lawyer one day, but right now, he’s planning his trip overseas for medical care.

He’s going to Portugal for a procedure that uses neural stem cells associated with a person’s sense of smell, to re grow the spinal cord. The cells will be harvested from deep inside Tommy’s own nose, the only place in the body where nerve cells are known to actually regenerate. Tommy’s neurologist, Dr. Joseph Acosta, did the early research.

Acosta said, “There have been lots of preliminary data using rats, and it had lots of credibility.”

During the procedure, neurosurgeons transplant harvested neural stem cells to damaged areas of the spinal cord. It’s hoped that the injuries responsible for paralysis, will eventually heal.

Acosta said, “They have a couple of people who are walking with braces now. Others still need their crutches, but they’re flexing at the hip and extending at the knee.”

Tommy is looking for that same kind of improvement, but he said he’ll be glad if he gets enough movement back to do little things most of us take for granted, like picking up small objects and flipping through a book.

It could take up to six years for Tommy to get the full benefit of his stem cell transplant, but he said that’s okay. If the procedure helps, it will be worth the wait.

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