Local health clinic providing ‘eyebrow raising’ treatment option for people with joint pain
IDAHO FALLS – Those suffering from joint pain due to arthritis or old injuries often have surgery, and although it helps many people feel better, it sometimes leaves side effects that lead to more doctor visits and more problems.
Chiropractor Brady Wirick opened a clinic in Idaho Falls about a year ago to give people in this situation another option.
Wirick’s staff at Intermountain Regenerative Medicine treat people with stem cell injections.
“I’m a licensed chiropractor, and I practiced functional medicine for about 12 years. Two or three years ago, I was perfectly happy doing what I was doing, and then I got a phone call from one of my colleagues, and he said, ‘Hey, have you heard of this stem cell thing?’ “Wirick tells EastIdahoNews.com. “The more I looked into it, the more it just made complete sense to me.”
The process is simple. Wirick and his staff take stem cells from healthy umbilical cords and other birthing tissue and inject them into the joint space where the patient is experiencing pain. The cells then start to replicate and begin creating new cartilage.
It’s a procedure Wirick says augments the body’s natural reparative mechanism and often helps people avoid joint replacement surgery.
“Drugs are great. They help a lot of people. But they only treat the symptoms. We don’t know of anything else that stimulates tissue regrowth like stem cells do,” he says.
Given the source of the stem cells, Wirick says the procedure initially raises a lot of eyebrows.
“Every time I run my Facebook campaigns, someone gets on there and asks if (the stem cells) are coming from aborted babies. Absolutely not. That’s illegal, immoral, and it’s not safe,” says Wirick.
Parents can consent to donate their birthing tissue to science, Wirick says. Certain labs take those cells, and, if they pass a strict screening process, use them to help other people in this type of treatment.
Since opening the clinic, Wirick and his staff have helped more than 200 people across the U.S. and Canada with their joint pain. Many of those patients say their joints function better than they did prior to the injury.
Toni Turner of Idaho Falls decided to get an injection about a year ago after living with a torn meniscus in her knee for seven years.
“I didn’t have insurance at the time, so I couldn’t (pay for) the surgery to correct it. So I decided to just do without, and there were a lot of things I wasn’t able to do,” Turner says.
Two weeks before getting her injection, she took a fall and tore her ACL on the same knee. After consulting with her doctor, they discussed surgery yet again.
She decided to get a stem cell injection and noticed improvements right away.
“I was bone on bone, and I had arthritis. I went in limping because of the fall at work, and I was in pain. I went and had the injection done, and I was walking out pain-free. I wasn’t limping. It was almost a miracle to me,” Turner says. “I went to the doctor who was looking at my ACL two weeks after I had the stem cells injected. He said my left knee, the one that was injured, was looking better than my good knee.”
Steve Wirick, Brady’s father, noticed immediate results and avoided having knee surgery because of stem cell injections.
“He had bone-on-bone knees. We injected him, and he’s one of the few who actually got off the table feeling better,” Brady says. “He stood up, gave his knees a couple of shakes up and down and said, ‘My knees feel better,’ and walked out. I have video of him riding bikes with his grandkids four weeks later.”
But Wirick says these cases are not typical. Stem cell injections don’t always yield immediate results and do not work for everyone. Wirick took stem cells before he tried it on any of his patients, without any results.
“There are cases where it did not work, and unfortunately, that was the risk involved,” Wirick says. “Most people will see a difference six to eight weeks out. The sweet spot is six to nine months.”
Though the procedure has a high success rate, some factors prevent it from working. One of those factors, according to Wirick, includes being overly skeptical.
“People who come in going ‘This isn’t going to work. It’s a waste of time and a waste of money.’ There’s a legit (connection between people having doubts and the procedure) not working for those people.”
Other factors include not being in a healthy place (being too overweight, too sedentary or taking too many medications), and high stress levels.
“If they spend their last dollar to do this, they’re now broke, and so that increases their stress levels. We’re very open to these things when we do our consults. If you’re going to spend your last dollar on this, don’t do it. But if you can afford to make a monthly payment or pay for it and make the risk, it may be worth it for you,” says Wirick.
The cost of getting a stem cell injection starts at $4,200. The lack of FDA approval prevents it from being covered by insurance, Wirick says.
“There are so many factors going into it not being approved. Technically, you can’t classify it as a drug, and you can’t classify it as a surgery, and that’s really what the FDA is waiting for,” Wirick says. “But when you follow the FDA’s compliance to make sure it’s safe, it’s not cheap.”
The FDA says not enough research about stem cell therapy exists, and the information some clinics present can be misleading.
A recent paper published in a medical journal examined the marketing claims of 716 stem cell clinics in the United States.
“What at first glance might appear to be credible and compliant clinical research often is highly problematic,” the article states. “The individuals most affected are those who often are already dealing with serious health problems and other challenges.”
The FDA asserts that efforts to legitimize stem cell treatments are underway, but for now the procedures remain unregulated. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 12 cases where patients received infections as a result of a stem cell procedure.
Wirick estimates another five to 10 years before this treatment meet the FDA’s approval, though it’s legal to perform the procedure now.
He says it’s safe, and many of his patients swear by it.
Once a lab clears the stem cells for use, Wirick stores them in a cryo tank at his clinic. The clinic meets safety guidelines and has FDA clearance to offer the procedure.
He says other clinics offer similar types of services that involve taking stem cells from the patient’s body and re-injecting them into the injured area. Wirick says using stem cells from umbilical cords is more effective because they are new cells.
As a patient who was skeptical about the procedure initially, Turner says it’s important to do your homework. After attending an informational seminar about the injections and absorbing information on her own, the selling point for her was that the worst thing that could happen was nothing.
“I thought, ‘I would much rather try this because surgery scares the crap out of me. Addiction (to pain medication) scares the crap out of me. I’m willing to go a more natural way to save myself from any other damage that could be happening,’ “she says. “It just felt right to me, but to someone (who doesn’t know what they’re getting into), it may not be right for them.”
If you’d like to learn more about stem cell therapy, visit Intermountain Regenerative Medicine’s website. You can schedule a free consultation online or by calling the clinic at (208) 523-1620. It is at 2429 Jafer Court next to Teton Pharmacy.