Wheeling In, Dancing Out: The Promise of Stem Cell Therapy

By the time Linda Burton came to Hampton Roads Orthopaedics Spine & Sports Medicine in September 2017, crippling arthritis pain in her left foot had left her wheelchairbound. Yet the invasive surgical solution proposed by a specialist in a different medical practice – four joint fusions scared her.

Dr. Kinjal B. Sohagia had a far different answer. He could harvest Burton’s own stem cells from abdominal fat cells, via a quick liposuction procedure, and inject them directly into the damaged joints. By coaxing her body to grow new cartilage, he could ease Burton’s bone-on-bone arthritis pain without an operation.

A month after her procedure, Burton, 73, literally danced into Sohagia’s office. “Stem cell therapy has been like a miracle for me,” the Hampton woman says. “My pain is virtually gone. I have my life back.”

Since 2014, Dr. Sohagia has offered cutting-edge therapies at HROSM. The practice’s Stem Cell Therapy Center frequently tackles osteoarthritis-related multiple joint pain, muscle ligaments and tendon injuries, sprain/strain, chronic pain from non-healing fractures, tendinitis and bursitis pain throughout the body, as well as degenerative disc disease and sacroiliac joint pain in the lower back. Patients turn to the center after conventional treatments or previous surgeries have failed.

“I believe so strongly in regenerative medicine and its future,” says Sohagia, who has nearly a decade of experience with the treatments. “Stem cell therapy has no risk because you’re truly fixing the problem without a surgery or a medication that could cause both short- and long-term complications.”

Fusion surgery, for example, tends to stress other joints down the road. Permanently immobilizing the joints between Burton’s arthritic bones could have thrown off her gait and ultimately led to back or hip pain.

Dr. Sohagia’s practice includes adipose stem cell therapy, which uses a centrifuge machine to isolate live stem cells from fat or bone marrow, and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, which similarly concentrates blood components that promote healing. During same-day appointments of 60-90 minutes, patients undergo liposuction and/or simple blood draws, followed by their injections.

Dr. Sohagia’s practice utilizes amniotic and umbilical cord-derived stem cells, as well as autologous stem cells from a patient’s own body, which pose no risk of rejection. He often combines stem cell therapy with PRP for maximum benefit.

In Burton’s case, Dr. Sohagia targeted six damaged areas of her foot, including a tear in her Achilles tendon. “He was so precise, especially with the tiny joints at the  top of my foot,” Burton notes. “He was persistent until he got it right, and he talked to me the whole time to keep me comfortable.”

The current downside to regenerative medicine is cost, as insurance plans still consider it experimental. “We’ve worked hard to make these therapies as affordable as possible to our patients,” Dr. Sohagia says. “I am hopeful that as we collect more data on success rates, insurance coverage will follow.”

Burton could undergo repeat treatments if necessary, but for now she’s back on her feet and embracing favorite activities such as shopping and strolling on the beach. “I’m just so thankful I don’t have to be in a wheelchair,” she says. “This treatment was a tremendous answer to my prayers.”