Dustin Bunch's Story : New hope for healing spinal cord injuries through stem cell therapy
By Eric Stoffers
Fair warning. It’s going to be tough to not shed a tear or two as you follow this story that weaves together the science of pioneering medical innovations, an inspiring account how a patient coped with paralysis from a devastating injury, and the bond that formed between two patients from different walks of life who courageously face similar challenges.
As the CEO of BioXcellerator, one of the world’s leading stem cell research and therapy centers, I meet many patients. They come to us for stem cell therapy to help treat a wide range of conditions – from autoimmune diseases to degenerative spine and disc disorders and many more.
Many of our patients are well-known athletes who turn to stem cell therapy to help promote healing and relieve pain so they can extend their careers and enjoy more active lives. We take pride in offering treatments to help all of our patients achieve all they can.
But when I meet a patient who comes to us for help after being paralyzed from a spinal cord injury, that’s an experience that really touches the heart. After all, some of these folks can’t even move and to help them accomplish what most of us take for granted – simply holding their children in their arms, for example – makes our work at BioXcellerator even more rewarding and fulfilling.
Spinal cord injury and paralysis—devastating and sudden
We treat patients for many different conditions. For example, millions of people are impacted by degenerative disc disease in the spine, which can often be treated with stem cell therapy -- yet these disorders are fairly common and emerge gradually over time.
But a spinal cord injury from a tragic accident comes unexpectedly and suddenly changes life forever. Think of the devastation of enjoying an active vital life one minute, and in an instant, you can’t feel your body, move your arms and legs, or even use the bathroom. And that’s if you’re “lucky” enough to survive the injury.
That’s what happened to California firefighter Dustin Bunch July 5th, 2018. He was on vacation with his family and was injured a tragic boating accident that broke his neck. After being hospitalized, he remained in a coma for several days and then faced an uncertain future.
“I couldn’t move anything below my neck and was not ever supposed to be able to move my arms and legs again,” Dustin says about those first few days after his accident. “That was rough.”
Even just a few years ago, a spinal cord injury like this was often a permanent disability – no hope at all. But recent innovations in stem cell therapy offers promise to regenerate spinal cord cells that can help patients heal and recover at least some movement, which can make a big difference in their lives. It certainly did for Dustin after he began stem cell therapy at BioXcellerator.
“I’m here to prove everybody wrong”
How Dustin ended up making his first of now four trips so far to our clinic in Medellin, Colombia strikes me as an example of how all of our lives can weave together in ways we first see as coincidence, yet somehow seem almost like destiny.
That’s because Dustin was a fan of Matt Hughes, the noted UFC champion who had enjoyed two separate six-fight winning streaks over his career and was the eighth inductee into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Matt had suffered a serious brain injury when a train struck his car in 2017. Dustin had heard the story of Matt’s impressive recovery from such a serious injury, so when he woke up from his coma, one of the first things Dustin said was, “Someone figure out a way to get ahold of Matt Hughes."
As it turns out, Matt had been treated at BioXcellerator, so he sent Dustin a message suggesting he look into stem cell therapy at our clinic.
Dustin says that his decision was clear, saying that “it didn’t make sense not to give it a try.” While his doctors held little hope that Dustin would see much improvement, when he arrived at our clinic, he said “I’m here to prove everybody wrong.”
Stem cell therapy with BioXcellerator – new hope for spinal cord injury
Spinal cord injuries cause paralysis based the location of the injury. In Dustin’s case, that injury was between his C5 and C6 vertebrae in his neck, so he couldn’t move his arms or legs.
Dustin says it was frustrating to be stuck in his electric wheelchair. “I couldn’t move anything. I was just 100% strapped in.”
Stem cell therapy works because infusions of stem cells can regenerate cells to heal damaged tissues and structures throughout the body – including the spinal cord.
BioXcellerator uses a specific type of stem cell, mesenchymal stem cells, which research shows are highly potent. They come from donated umbilical cords and processed based on our proprietary protocol to screen cells for properties that indicate high potency – then purified before being cultured and expanded into infusions of millions of cells used to treat patients.
“I cherish these moments”
After the course of several treatments, Dustin’s recovery has been a remarkable one.
“My spinal cord injury left me a quadriplegic. Now, I can move my arms. I can pick up a cup, I can drink my own water, I can start to take my own shirt off. All these are things I couldn’t do six months ago -- before my stem cell treatment at BioXcellerator,” Dustin says.
“But it’s the little things that really make a big difference,” he adds. “My daughter likes to take my hat off sometimes and now being able to put simply put my hat back on and hold my daughter make life better. I cherish these moments.”
Even more moving…
Yes, Dustin can now move his arms again, but what’s even more moving is how Dustin met Matt Hughes in person and had the opportunity to thank him for suggesting he look into stem cell therapy at BioXcellerator.
As Matt explains, he had never heard back how Dustin was doing after he suggested stem cell treatment, but in later that year Matt happened to be at our clinic for follow-up treatment when he saw a man in a wheelchair.
“My first thought was that I really have a lot to be thankful for because I should be in worse shape than this man. I also wondered if he was in Medellin to receive stem cell treatment, (he was)” Matt recalls.
“The man and his family came up to me and the man introduced himself as Dustin Bunch! He told me that as soon as he got the message from me, his fellow firefighters, friends, and family all raised enough money for him to come to Colombia and receive stem cell treatment,” Matt says.
What an exceptional coincidence – one that was certainly a moving experience for Dustin, Matt, and everyone else who witnessed the bond created between two of our patients. Matt got a chance to see that Dustin was indeed a fighter – no, not a UFC fighter like Matt, but certainly a champion in a unique way. And Dustin got a chance to thank Matt for his inspiring support.
“Matt told me not to give up, not to accept what is as what will be,” Dustin says. “If there’s light at the end of the tunnel, you have to go after it.”
If Dustin’s recovery is any example, stem cell therapy can indeed light up the end of that tunnel – and as he continues to improve, Dustin remains committed to keep “proving everybody wrong.”
If you’re interested in learning more about advanced stem cell therapy and determining if stem cell therapy is right for you.