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Spinal Cord Injury Health & Recovery

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Introduction to the Spinal Cord Injury scenario

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every year up to 500,000 people suffer Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) worldwide. Approximately 90 percent of injuries are the result of traumatic accidents, such as the sporting injury that resulted in paralysis for Karen Darke. The most difficult aspects of living with Spinal Cord Injury are surprisingly, not the mobility implications, but the risk of developing secondary conditions that can be debilitating or life-threatening. Karen has experienced many of these: septicemia, bladder and kidney infection, pressure ulcers, osteoporosis, intestinal difficulties, respiratory complications, chronic pain with no indication of source, intestinal and other internal system complication etc. In fact, people with SCIs are up to five times more likely to die prematurely when compared to those without such an injury.

More about Dr Karen Darke MBE
When Karen was injured in 1993, paralysis was seen as a life-long irreversible, untreatable condition, which the prognosis of degenerative health and premature death. Karen lives life and optimises her health in ways that we know enhance it: with mindset, exercise, good nutrition, and a life with meaning and community. She has done many things in the outdoor, adventure and sporting arena that able-bodied counterparts would find challenging and surprising (see this video), including Paralympic Gold, 3 Guinness Records and creating the Pole of Possibility in Antarctica.

However, Karen has also encountered many of the secondary health challenges of SCI. Her mindset is exploratory: seeking solutions and possibilities not just for herself, but for ground-breaking ways of being. She brings this now into the domain of SCI health and optimisation of healthspan for people with SCI. This inevitably extends into possible regeneration of spinal cord tissue. Karen's philosophy is that "Disability is a state of mind not a state of body", yet she realises that without health it can be harder to flourish. She is an ambassador for numerous charities that enable the lives of people with 'disabilities', e.g. Spinal Injuries Association, Voice of Specially Abled People, various recreational organisations like SurfABLE, Bendrigg Trust and The 3H Foundation.

Medical science has come a long way, with scientists working on ideas to help spinal nerve tissue grow back and heal. Many scientists have been optimistic about future treatments that can heal a damaged spinal cord, although effectiveness has been limited. However, there were some specific breakthroughs in 2023 using both stem cells that signal nerve cell repair, and in a separate study, the use of an artificial matrix to help cells grow on. Advances in research and development of regenerative medicine methods and stem-cell technology research have brought us to an interesting place where spinal cord injury no longer seems ‘incurable’. Sometimes the biggest scientific discoveries are made when ideas from different fields collide.

That aim of this project is to take a multi-disciplinary approach, merging regenerative medicine methods with regenerative stem-cell research, neuro-physiotherapy, neuroplasticity and mindset work, in approaching two specific questions / hypotheses:

(1) How can the body environment best be optimised in people with SCI to optimise healthspan and reduce minimise risk of life-threatening secondary conditions / early mortality?
(2) Has medical science advanced to the point that with a multi-disciplinary approach, joining together different fields of medicine and research, that spinal cord communication can be recovered even after decades of paralysis?

Dr Jeffrey Gladden MD FACC (Gladden Longevity) has the understanding and experience to coordinate this project, and has generously offered services to apply regeneration medicine methods to optimise the body environment for healing. The work with Dr Gladden will assess the ‘health’ of my paralysed body using various diagnostic and laboratory tests to assess each system of my body. The results combined with his experience and knowledge of treatments to bring the body to optimal health, will prepare me for the possibility of leading-edge SCI stem-cell treatment with leading researchers and clinicians.

Karen contacted Dr Gladden after listening to his podcast, and whilst working with Move4ward physiotherapy (Elgin, Scotland) who specialise in neuro-physio and the very latest in rehabilitation technology to support regain of function. Karen has started standing and moving using electro-stiumulation and anti-gravity treadmills, even after 25 years of not standing: a surprising step forward for her. She and Dr Gladden subsequently explored the issues of SCI and health span in a podcast on the topic together, Breaking Boundaries

What will the funds be used for?
The plan is to take a staged approach:-
Step 1: Baseline testing to establish the health of different systems in my body (start point, gather data, assess risk factors and health status for next stage). This involves significant amount of testing and whilst Dr. Gladden will be donating his time, laboratory tests and scans will cost. Est. USD 25,000.
Step 2: Stem cell harvesting and treatment in up to three stages combined with working on the body at all levels: physical, mental, emotional, to see what movement or sensation may be recoverable. Each stage is estimated at costing USD 25,000 and two stages would be required initially.
Step 3: Two to three further stem cell treatments if results and changes are positive, with associated physio and continued healing work.

Personal Note from Karen
I was initially looking to raise the full amount for the whole three steps, but on reflection a more phased, incremental ‘step by step’ approach makes more sense, with the intention of at least taking steps 1 and 2 for this baseline testing and initial stem-cell feasibility treatment (estimated USD 75,000). Following this, if progress is evident and risk factors remain low or manageable, then I may progress to step 3.

"I move forward with respect for my fear, with total gratitude for the life I already have, and intent to understand and minimise risks. I honour other people’s fear too when they comment: “You don’t want to be a guinea pig!” or “Why would you bother / what will you gain?” This decision to explore is based on belief in possibility, a desire to share whatever I learn about wellbeing, healthspan and optimising our whole self.

I would like to invite you to be part of this journey with me, and to offer something back. If you are able donate $25 or more, please email me [email redacted] and let me know what you would most appreciate from this ‘menu’ of offerings:
(1) A digital copy of my book “Quest 79: Find Your Inner Gold”
(2) A digital copy of my book “If You Fall… It’s a New Beginning”
(3) A personal message / signed photograph of me with the Rio Paralympic Gold
(4) Join a short series of webinars with me to explore the theme of ‘Enabling Possibility’
(5) A subscription to blogs / vlogs that I will share about the journey with SCI Healthspan/ Repair
(6) For larger donors, the possibility of sharing one to one time: $200 donation for 1:1 coaching, $5000 to join one of my retreats.
My life as a paraplegic has been so rich in experiences, adventures, unique perspectives and human connections that I have grown to love it. When you love your life, it is easy not to embrace change; but change is the only thing certain in this life. It always guarantees learning and holds intriguing possibility.
The other blocker on this project ‘taking flight’ is my discomfort with asking for support for myself. This project is somewhat different, though it eases my discomfort that it should contribute knowledge and insight to a global health issue. I sincerely thank anyone who resonates with it and thank you for either contributing or sharing.

Dr Gladden has offered his services free of charge, and Karen has personal funds that will enable her to travel and stay at the required locations. However, there are additional costs involved that the team envisage will sum to a significant amount, including materials, labortaory tests, outsourced analysis, physio, MRI, feasibility, stem-cell treatment and the costs of analysing the progress and disseminating results to that it can be helpful to people with SCI’s and interested others. We are initially aiming to raise 75,000 USD which will go directly into the not-for-profit associated with Gladden Longevity which enables these sorts of cutting-edge projects.

We extend our heartfelt thanks if you are in a position to support.

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Karen Darke
Irving, TX

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