Sandra's Story

Former nurse free from pain after stem cell treatment

 Life changing: Former nurse and now Bendigo farmer Sandra Sharman is free of pain following stem cell treatment on her knee. Picture Meredith O’Shea (used under license from the photographer).

Life changing: Former nurse and now Bendigo farmer Sandra Sharman is free of pain following stem cell treatment on her knee. Picture Meredith O’Shea (used under license from the photographer).

Former nurse Sandra Sharman was so convinced that stem cell treatment would help with the agonizing arthritis in her knee that she refused to have a knee replacement.

Instead she asked her orthopaedic surgeon if he knew of any stem cell therapies that would help with her condition.

The Age reported that Sandra, who now farms near Bendigo, then opted to become one of three private patients in what's called a patient-funded case series, which is being run in tandem with the trial, at a cost of $10,000.

“I was nursing for a long time and I saw lots of joint replacement that had failed and I saw lots of people who were in a lot of pain and I never wanted that," she told The Sunday Age’s John Elder, of her decision to seek stem cell therapy rather than surgery.

Sandra sustained her injury in a car accident in 1959 that only gave trouble in recent years. She began her nursing career in 1960.

In 2014, she was advised by an orthopaedic surgeon that a knee replacement was needed.

In her career, Ms Sharman had observed and treated many patients after knee replacements and — due to the continued pain, lack of mobility and failure rate of the procedures — she was reluctant to undergo a knee replacement.

She has been interested in stem cell therapy for more than 20 years and had followed the progress of the therapy used to successfully treat dogs.

In the submission she says: “Prior to the therapy there was bone on bone contact within my knee and there was a persistent sac of fluid at the side of my knee. I experienced high levels of constant pain (especially during the night), my knee was continually hot and swollen, and my mobility was severely impaired, especially walking on hard surfaces and up and down stairs.

In her submission to the TGA Ms Sharman adds: “My experience with autologous stem cell therapy shows it is appropriate, safe and offers a better alternative to joint replacement”.

“I strongly believe the Government needs to ensure that stem cell research can continue to help people like me and the many others living with conditions that this therapy could help, either now or in the future.

“The research I am participating in has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committees of Monash and La Trobe Universities and this reassures me that they are being carried out in accordance with appropriate medical guidelines and practice.”

“I would very much like to see this therapy available to both public and private patients and be claimable on private health insurance. I paid for the treatment myself.”

“I believe stem cell therapy could be a far more cost effective treatment than current joint replacement surgery and encourage the Government to explore the cost benefits of stem cell therapy compared to surgical alternatives.”

Ms Sharman says the true cost of knee replacement surgery needs to be taken into account when considering stem cell treatments.

“People become addicted to prescribed medication because of the pain of arthritis or of failed joint replacement surgeries.”

She says the main pain relief treatment is endone, a morphine derivative, that is addictive and leads to erratic behaviour, including dangerous driving.

The general anaesthetic during surgery also presents a risk, she says.

She said the cost to society of replacement surgery can be very high, especially when it fails. Costs include: workers compensation, arthritis sufferers taking up hospital beds, the cost of ongoing medication, patients are sometimes left totally immobile and may end up in a nursing home or other full time medical care, she says.

Ms Sharman says younger people would benefit most from proven stem cell treatment.

“If someone has to have a knee replacement at 40, it only lasts 15 years so they could be looking at three knee replacements in their lifetime.”

Ms Sharman says: “Stem cell therapy is an efficient, cost effective method of treatment with minimal impact on the patient suffering debilitating arthritis.”

 She says when stem cell treatments work they have an effect beyond the condition being treated. “It relieves their financial, physical and emotional problems as well. And it’s minimally invasive,” she says.