After the Stem Cell Surgery

by April Moundzouris on Wed, 2013-12-04 05:00

April Moundzouris

All right, another week post-surgery, and I’m feeling so much better than last week’s post. I have much more range of motion in my neck. Even if I do something that aggravates it, the pain is much less intense and only lasts a short time. It’s still a little difficult moving my upper body forward and back, but I can do it. I also can rest on my side and just move better in general. It’s great!

If I had to complain about something it would be this one scab on my neck that’s taking its time coming off. There is no sign of infection; we are still cleaning it twice a day and putting vitamin E oil on it. I could force it off and not have any problems, but I know that could make it scar differently so I’m trying to be patient. I want it off also because it’s keeping me from getting my hair cut. I just don’t want to go in with a fresh scar and a scab. If roles were reversed, I wouldn’t be happy. I think other clients would be unhappy too if they saw it. So I wait.

I go back to Emory next week for more tests. My blood will be checked to make sure the immunosuppressant drugs I’m on post surgery are at the right levels. I’ll have another full MRI of my brain and spine. I’ll be glad when that’s completed. It’s a long one. Most future MRIs will be shorter because a smaller area will be scanned. There will be other testing and talking to closely monitor how I am doing. I feel positive about this and future appointments and outcomes.

I have told Dr. Glass and my study coordinator, Jane, what I’ve noticed in myself. I have to keep in mind I’m still very early out of surgery, and I don’t want to start saying things that I’m not absolutely positive about yet. I must tell you though, I do feel positive, and I am experiencing positive changes. If I had every treatment option available laid out for my choice, even the power to switch it up a bit I would with no hesitation choose exactly what I had. I would without hesitation choose to have stem cells injected directly into the gray matter of my spinal cord, and only the specific stem cells from Neuralstem Inc.

fresh out of surgery
four days post-surgery
five days post-surgery
six days post-surgery
April's nurse braided her hair in the beginning; then her husband learned and has kept it up since.

I also wouldn’t trade for anything my ALS specialist, Dr. Jonathan Glass, professor of neurology at the Emory School of Medicine. He is director of the Emory ALS Center and principal investigator of the Emory clinical trial site. His dedication to finding a treatment and ultimately a cure for his patients is so apparent. I know I’m under the care of one of the best ALS researchers in the world.

Neurosurgeon Nicholas Boulis performed my surgery and also developed the device to safely inject the stem cells into the spinal cord. Even though at least one other surgeon has used what he created, and I’m sure there are many surgeons competent to use it, he created it and boldly went where no other surgeon had been before starting in the phase 1 trial. That helps a lot with the fear factor along with meeting and speaking with him prior to surgery. His casual confidence and extreme knowledge he so willingly and eagerly shares of any aspect of the procedure one can possibly think to ask, while at the same time not sending any signals of intimidation put him as the No. 1 choice to perform my surgery. I received exactly what I would have chosen. I’ll be forever thankful that I was chosen as a candidate for this, and after meeting all criteria, was able to be a part of what I believe is the beginning of great things ahead for ALS. I’ll be more specific with my outcome in time. I have no doubt it’s positive; I just want to give more time and make sure everything I claim is right. Stay tuned.

I had to give this some thought and decided to do it. My husband recorded me a little in the hospital on the third day. I would be interested in seeing what a person is like on day three after this procedure, so I figured others would too. I’m not going to lie: My main hesitation is because I look awful and well, very fat. I know many people say they wouldn’t care, most will say I shouldn’t. It is how I feel. I’ve gained a lot of weight since being diagnosed with ALS. More than needed and I don’t like it. I’m not concerned with whether or not it should bother me. Fact: It does.

In fairness, I’m also still very swollen all over in the video. The swelling almost masks some of the facial muscle changes and hides the normally obvious atrophy seen mainly in my right arm, and my fingers look more normal to me. There, I can be positive about how my looks have changed. I remember shortly after waking from surgery hearing family talk about how swollen I was and lifting my arms enough to see my very swollen hands, then my brain went off into the great Pink Floyd song "Comfortably Numb." The part about having a fever as a child and hands that felt like two balloons. They did look like hospital gloves blown up to full capacity.

Back to the topic. We all know I don’t like the way I look here. I’m putting that aside to give a glimpse of the three days post-surgery. I’m also showing pictures fresh out of surgery and a few more. I chose to put this out there for basically the same reason I put my daily pic on my website. I did that to spread awareness of ALS by showing the long-term progression of ALS. I always come to the conclusion that raising awareness about ALS is much more important than how I look. I just allow myself a moment to whine about it here. It helps. I already feel much better. Now let’s get to spreading awareness! I hope this interests you as much as it would me. I remember him recording, but it’s a vague memory. I’ll probably put the pictures and video somewhere on the website too for easier access as time passes. Here they are.

Click here to watch April's post-surgery video:

The blog was posted originally on Nov. 24, 2013.

About the Author

My name is April Moundzouris, and I was diagnosed with ALS on March 28, 2012, when I was 39 years old. I recently started a website, The ALS Express, which contains easy-to-find information for those recently diagnosed with ALS. The site also houses my personal blog (also posted as April's ALS Blog at WordPress). My site is very straightforward regarding my life with ALS and may offend some. However, that's not my intention. If I can help one person newly diagnosed with this horrible disease better understand how to adapt to their ever-changing condition, then I have a feeling of accomplishment. If you get a chance, please visit my site. Please also visit The ALS Express on Facebook, a fan page that my husband set up and maintains.

Lastly, thanks to everyone helping to spread awareness about ALS. A cure or at least a treatment is way past due.

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