Cell therapy helps Sanford patient get back to racecourse

When old injuries slowed down an endurance athlete, a clinical trial offered treatment

A muscular man sits on an exam table while talking to a Sanford Health nurse.

Steven Fisher is a modern-day Spartan. 5’9”, 225 pounds of pure muscle, and he’s constantly exercising.

In fact, his favorite hobby is touring the country, competing in Spartan Races with his wife. If you’ve never heard of a Spartan Race, it’s essentially running miles and miles, and you’re rewarded for your efforts by completing physical tasks, like doing a billion pull-ups, or crawling through mud, at each mile.

For these obstacle and endurance races, you’ve got to be in pretty good shape.

However, as of late Fisher has had to take a break from said races. Not because he’s tired, or anything like that. The man’s a machine. His hiatus has stemmed from a life-long nagging injury that’s been flaring up.

‘Surfing’ gone wrong

He said it all started during his “young and dumb” days. He and his friends were tobogganing down a hill. Fisher, who was 20 at the time, said he stood up on the toboggan to attempt “a little surfing.” He felt like a regular Kelly Slater before falling backwards.

Learn more: Orthopedics regenerative medicine at Sanford Health

“My elbow hit into the ground and just caught. I broke my humerus into three pieces. Obviously, that was a lot of trauma in my shoulder as well,” Fisher said.

Because of the impact, his doctor told him he was lucky his humerus didn’t shoot through his shoulder.

“Normally that’s what they see with that kind of fall.”

He went through rehabilitation, and other than some trouble resting his hands behind his head, he said he made a full recovery.

Early arthritis

Fast forward a few decades, and he’s lifting weights, running Spartan Races, and seemed to be doing well. One day, though, he noticed a sharp pain in the same shoulder he injured as a young adult.

He said he couldn’t heal it the ways he normally would. So, he went to his doctor.

“He said I had arthritis. At the age of 43. He said if I was older, we’d be talking about replacing my shoulder,” he said.

Fisher got a PRP, or platelet rich plasma, injection. He noticed some relief for eight months, before the pain returned.

“Basically at that point it was a labrum tear, and I’d been re-tearing it quite a bit,” Fisher said. He got another PRP shot but started to look more into stem cells and regenerative medicine. He lives in West Virgina and found a few doctors who offer stem cell therapy.

“But you can’t find a lot of information on how they do it, like what their method is. They don’t even say if it’s from bone marrow or from fat. They also don’t tell you how they’re extracting the stem cells, like if it’s mechanical or they’re doing something else. They’re not going to tell you that stuff,” he said.

The right fit

He wanted to continue to explore this form of treatment, but only if it was done the right way. He talked with multiple providers on the East Coast, but it just didn’t feel right.

Then, he stumbled onto Sanford.

He said he started talking with Tiffany Facile, the clinical director of regenerative medicine at Sanford Health. She explained to him that the stem cell treatment, and ENDURE clinical trial, Sanford Health can offer might be a great fit for Fisher.

“We talked about different studies, and we talked about what Sanford is doing. She’s obviously really excited about it and there were some previous studies (Sanford has) done. I read up on the previous studies, and the results on the previous studies. For example, with a rotator cuff, they had done the same process and got great results with it,” Fisher explained.

He also said he truly felt like he was heard and understood at Sanford Health. “Some of the other places felt like more of a shop, so to speak,” he said.

“Everybody, from the top down to even the front desk, they were gracious. Everybody I’ve worked with, they’re all passionate about this. I never felt like I was just getting pulled along, and I didn’t have a say in my care or anything like that. I felt I was more part of the process itself and like I was walking with them,” he said.

Stem cell therapy

Fisher received adipose-derived stem cell treatment from Sanford. He said the way Sanford Health delivered the treatment differs from other health care providers. He explained some providers use a mechanical method to extract the stem cells, but Sanford uses a more concentrated enzyme-derived method.

“There is an estimated range on the amount of stem cells that get extracted, like from an enzyme approach versus mechanical, and it can be on the order of like a thousand times more cells going to be extracted, versus the mechanical,” he said.

He’s still on the sidelines for Spartan Races, but he’s hoping to get back on the course soon. He has a check-up in January, but he says he feels both physically and mentally better after receiving care from Sanford.

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Posted In Orthopedics, Research, Sports Medicine