A couple of years ago, in one of my many conversations with former Packers great Jerry Kramer, we were talking about golf. Kramer mentioned that his hip was bothering him and it was difficult playing golf at that time.
I asked Jerry what he was doing to cope with the issue. Kramer said that he took two Aleve tablets each day to ease the pain, but that he might end up having his hip replaced. Another option would be getting stem cell treatment.
That conversation stuck in mind.
Last fall, in another one of our talks, Kramer told me that he just received stem cell treatment on his hip and that the hip felt great. No more Aleve either.
The stem cell treatment for Kramer was the second one he had for the hip. The first one had been done in Florida, while the second one took place in Tijuana, Mexico.
“In Florida, I got a couple of injections from Dr. Joseph Purita in Boca Raton,” Kramer said. “Shortly after my treatment, I had a golf tournament and all that twisting, turning and grinding of your joints probably mashed the stem cell effect and it really didn’t help. I think the treatment needs more time and rest to be effective. That’s just my opinion.
“But when I had the injection in October and sat on my ass for about three months afterwards, trying to let everything get established, all went well. Two months later, I was able to stop taking Aleve. And I was taking two Aleve a day, everyday, for about five years. I haven’t taken any since then either.”
It’s important to also understand how the stem cell treatments differ in the United States, as opposed to Mexico.
In the U.S., the FDA only approves stem cell treatments from the person’s very own bone marrow.
In Mexico, you can also have embryonic stem cell treatment or in vitro stem cell treatment.
In embryonic stem cell treatment, the cells are derived from human embryonic stem cells.
In in vitro stem cell treatment, it involves the human embryos that are discarded every day as medical waste from in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics.
In fact, one of the places Kramer visited while he learned more about stem cell research, Harvard University, a group of researchers are calling for the use of in vitro, as the authors believe they represent an ethically acceptable source of stem cells for research.
Kramer received an in vitro stem cell treatment in Mexico.
About a month after Kramer received his stem cell treatment for his hip, the Green Bay Packers were going to be honoring Brett Favre. The Packers were going to unveil his No. 4 on the stadium facade at legendary Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving night, when the Chicago Bears played the Packers.
The big news for this event was that Bart Starr was going to be there.
Starr, who is 82, was debilitated in September 2014 by two strokes and a heart attack. But after Starr received stem cell treatment (also in Mexico), No. 15 made remarkable progress. Starr was once again able to speak and also to walk, after being confined to a wheelchair due to the effects of the stroke.
That procedure and rehabilitation allowed Starr to travel from Alabama to Wisconsin to honor Favre.
When Starr made his appearance at halftime of the game, it was a very emotional setting, especially knowing what Starr had overcome to just to be in Green Bay.
Kramer talked about that emotion.
“The thing about that setting at Lambeau on Thanksgiving that made my heart go pitty-pat, was when Bart got out of the cart to say hello to Brett,” Kramer said. “And he said, ‘Hey Mister. How are you doing, Brett?’
“That term Mister, was what Coach Lombardi you to say when he wanted to chew our ass. As in, “Mister, what in the hell are you doing?’ In the last 10 years or so, Bart has adopted that Mister term as a greeting.
“To me, hearing him say that to Brett, told me that not only was his mind working, but his memory was working as well. That really got me pretty emotional.”
Speaking of Starr, it appears that his family is definitely considering another stem cell treatment for Bart, perhaps as soon as a week or two, based on the story Pete Dougherty of USA Today Network-Wisconsin put out on Wednesday.
There has been big advancements in helping out people who have had cognitive issues via stem cell treatments. In a study done by Stanford University School of Medicine, it has been determined that people who were disabled by a stroke can be helped.
This was done by injecting modified, human, adult stem cells directly into the brains of chronic stroke patients. That method proved to be not only safe, but effective in restoring motor function, according to the findings of a small clinical trial.
Stem cell treatment for former NFL players like Kramer and Starr have proven to be effective.
There may not be a person in the non-medical world who knows more about the study of stem cell research than Kramer.
No. 64 told me how it all this journey first started for him.
“I was looking at starting a clinic for anti-aging along with my good buddy Art Preston, who is in the oil business,” Kramer said. “We were also joined by Dr. Don Steele, who is a Clinical Neuropsychologist. “That was initially my focus. I didn’t know a lot about this subject, so I decided that we were going to go to five or six universities and their research facilities. To talk to the PHDs and the doctors who were running the facility and see what they thought about aging and also stem cells.
“So we went to the University of Wisconsin and saw saw Dr. James Thomson in his lab. Dr. Thomson was able to take a normal cell and induce embryonic pluripotency to the cell. Which is setting it back to an embryonic stage. That is pretty phenomenal.
“We spent four hours with him and he told me a wonderful story about how he arrived at that project. He asked me if I ever heard of the human genome project. I said I did. He asked me if I knew how long it took. I said, I wasn’t sure, but was probably eight or nine years.
“Dr. Thomson said, ‘Jerry, it took 13 years. And the cost was $3.1 billion dollars. I now have a machine my basement that can do the same thing in three-and-a-half hours.’
“James took me back and showed me some stem cells on a slide. Then he took me back into another part of the lab and showed me a cage that had little critters scurrying around in it. And James says, “Do you know what those are?’ I told him that they looked like salamanders.
“He said that’s what they were and he asked me what I knew about salamanders. I said that they make good bass bait! And he laughs and says, “What else?’ I told him I didn’t know a lot about them. He told me that a salamander can regenerate an arm, a leg or a tail.
“Then Dr. Thomson says, ‘We think the the ability of the salamander to regrow an arm, a leg or a tail, is stem cell-based. If we can figure out how the salamander does it, we think we can do the same thing with humans.’
When Jerry told me that story, it really hit home, as I have lived in Florida now for 30-plus years. Any time you go outside in Florida, you are going to see an anole, which is also in the lizard family like the salamander. In my time living in Florida, I’ve also had a few dogs.
When a dog sees an anole, he’s going to chase it and try and catch it. Many times I have seen a dog of mine step on the tail of the anole and detach the tail. Anoles are territorial. They hang around the same areas, whether it’s near your pool or by certain plants or bushes.
So I was able to spot the ones who lost a tail fairly easily. It’s amazing to see a stub grow into a tail again in a matter of weeks.
The meeting with Dr. Thomson gave Kramer a glimpse of where the stem cell science was heading.
After the visit with Dr. Thomson, Kramer, along with Preston and Steele, went to Harvard and received a full-blown tour of their research lab. They spent three or four hours with Dr. David Sinclair, who headed the lab for the study of aging at Harvard.
After the visit to Harvard, Kramer and company then went to MIT, where they met Dr. Leonard Guarente, who headed the lab for the study of aging at that school since 1982.
“MIT was sort of a golden castle on a far away hill to me,” Kramer said. “My father was a half-assed engineer and most of that was self-taught. He built his own radio when he was 14 years old. Dad thought MIT was the greatest spot in the world and he once told me that I might be able to go there some day.
“So to be at MIT and also to have lunch with Dr. Guarente was a big thrill. I kept calling him Dr. Guarente, being as respectful as I could. Finally he says, ‘Call me Lenny. As in Lenny Moore [of the Baltimore Colts]. I loved you guys. I used to watch you all the time.’
“After our visit to MIT, we went to Stanford and Cal and talked to their research people.”
After Kramer told me that, I mentioned to him that he didn’t mess around on his research tour, going to places like Wisconsin, Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Cal.
“I wanted the best information I could find, Bobby,” Kramer said. “I wanted to go right to the source at the best places we could go. I mean, if I was going to get involved in that, and also get other people involved in that, I wanted to believe in it.
“That was just an incredible time and a wonderful learning experience. All of the folks were so gracious with their time as well. So all that time investigating this research and learning about it, made me believe that the stem cell research community was going to undergo an incredible change.
“I also checked out web sites at Wake Forest (Dr. Anthony Atala) and at the University of Pittsburgh (Dr. Stephen Badylak), which gave me some more outstanding information.
“Basically, I got myself comfortable regarding stem cell research. That it wasn’t BS or snake oil stuff.”
Kramer also started spreading the word about what he had learned to former teammates.
“About four years ago, a bunch of us from the Super Bowl II team were at an autograph function,” Kramer said. “Somebody asked me what I was doing and I started talking about my stem cell research. Don Horn was standing near me and was listening to everything I said.
“Don didn’t say anything, but you could tell he was listening intently. After that, Don started doing his own research and now he has a big role as a liaison for former NFL players who might be helped by stem cell therapy.”
Horn now works with Kandace Stolz, who is President of the Premier Stem Cell Institute.
Kramer is impressed with PSCI, which is located in Johnstown, Colorado.
“I talked with Kandace on the phone. She is very knowledgeable about current and future stem cell facts. I plan on going there to visit with her before too long.”
That would be yet another educational journey for Kramer, as he continues to expand his knowledge in the stem cell research field.