Read the incredible, life-changing stories of patients who have received regenerative medicine treatments from SWSS.
It's been 4 months since my Discseel® Procedure for 4 herniated discs, and all 5 of my lumbar discs had tears that leaked. Here's the bottom line. After living with pain for almost 35 years, It's been an absolute miracle for me. I followed your instructions, well except for one, I walked in a swimming pool a little to longer than I should have after 1 week, and the rest of that day was my most painful experience with muscle spasms during my entire recovery, but I was back to 100% the following day. Although I took the pain pills the first night, I really never needed them, just an occasional Advil. I'm doing everything I want without any pain or discomfort, biking, hiking, swimming, weight training, etc., and I'm letting everyone I know that suffers with back or neck pain about the Discseel® Treatment.
Thank you for the compassion, medical care and related services you provided me before and after the discseel procedure. I had the Discseel® Procedure on January 29, 2019, and I can tell that I am receiving benefits from it already. I have had lower back pain for over 2 years now after being rear-ended. Before, I did not have back pain. I tried conservative care to deal with it. Unfortunately, the conservative care did not work, and doctors told me that I'll need surgery. After the Discseel® Procedure, I can already tell that my pain is improving. I know recovery varies but I am very optimistic that the Discseel® Procedure will possibly eliminate the need for back surgery. Thank you!!
Edmond E. Salem
The Discseel® Procedure gave me my life back. That statement may sound dramatic but it is true. I was being treated by arguably the best physicians at UCSF and Stanford (two top-tier medical hospitals) and my results were abysmal. I was in immense pain every day and the only relief I could find was through narcotics. I had basically given up until somebody saw me limping one day and recommend the Discseel® Procedure. Though my back will never return to normal I can now live a relatively comfortable life. The cost of the procedure was the best check I ever wrote. I would be happy to share my experience via phone.
I had 2 microdiscectomy's (2010, 2012). I'm my case, they just bought me some time as the pain always comes back. In 2015, I was recommended to get a 4 level X Flex fusion. No way, there are alternatives......This procedure changed my life. It's changed the lives of many friends and family members as well. I was on pain meds for 10 years and in awful pain. I was off them 2 weeks after the procedure, that was 3.5 years ago.
Walking on a waterbed is just no fun. It’s unstable and you wobble – a lot.
That’s how Rachel McCarroll felt when she walked. A 2010 fall injured her right leg and led her California doctors to put a pin in her right femur. The Phoenix resident didn’t feel comfortable from the start. “I assumed they must have touched the muscle,” she said. “Nothing showed up in the MR, X-rays, or anything. After they let me go to the hospital, it still hurt.”
McCarroll, 74, was told the pain was part of the healing after the operation and would improve. But she told the doctors the pain was in her hip, not her leg. And she didn’t improve. “My feet felt like they were walking on a water bed,” McCarroll said. “I had no balance. It hurt worse than having a baby.”
Physical therapy didn’t help either and her internal medicine specialist suggested she visit Southwest Spine & Sports to talk about Platelet Rich Plasma. “It will rejuvenate your muscles,” he said. Retired from work in the California Court System, McCarroll first learned about Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) on the Health Channel and thought the treatment could help. But she didn’t expect immediate relief after six years of wobbling discomfort. That’s what she experienced when she was treated by Dr. Michael Wolff, MD at Southwest Spine & Sports.
“The first shot was awesome,” McCarroll said about her initial PRP treatment. “By the time I left the office, there was no wobble. My feet were already better.” A second session helped, too, but the muscles still weren’t at full strength. An unwise choice to leg-press too much weight caused a slight setback. But a third PRP treatment put McCarroll back on track.
A diabetic, McCarroll notes she still uses a cane, but can walk well and without that waterbed feel. PRP is an all natural alternative that does not raise blood sugars like steroids often do in people with diabetes.
A bend here, a lift there, and next thing you know, two years of pain.
That’s what happened to Debra Trindle and her back. The Phoenix resident isn’t sure how she injured her back, but a November treatment with Dr. Michael Wolff, MD, at Southwest Spine & Sports surpassed her expectations. “I had (autologous) Fibrin Disc Sealant combined with Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) at 2:30 p.m. and woke up the next morning pain-free for the first time in two years,” Trindle, 60, said.
She didn’t jump or dance wildly or run a marathon that day. “I didn’t change anything,” she said. “I didn’t think it was smart to test the bounds.” Trindle, a retired air traffic controller, continued to pamper her back and be mindful to not make twisting motions or take her back injury – despite the immediate relief – for granted. After all, the pain had been so severe Trindle said it was impacting her quality of life. She had to stop all exercise for core work two years ago after either bending the wrong way or lifting the wrong way and tearing a tendon between the L4 and L5 vertebrae in her (lower) back.
Trindle’s injury was a combination of the degenerative disc disease and internal disc disruption, called an annular tear. This occurs when the disc’s outer layer, the annulus, degenerates and develops tears, effectively becoming an incompetent and painful disc. The discs function to provide cushioning between the vertebrae, the disc functions much like shock absorbers. When they are degenerated or develop annular tears, they don’t function well, and a person feels low back pain.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to exercising,” Trindle explained. “That’s the number one thing right now. It was undo-able for a year. My disc tear was so bad, my neurosurgeon restricted me from doing anything at all, even the treadmill.” She couldn’t exercise or lift anything over 10 lbs. Her activities were limited secondary to the pain and fear of the disc degeneration with annular tear progressing into a herniated disc. If that happened, Trindle was told she would be even worse off.
The neurosurgeon who treated Trindle referred her to SWSS. Before that referral, though, he had to deliver the bad news with the good. “The good news is that you don’t need surgery,” she recalls him saying. “The bad news is I can’t help you.”
Trindle doesn’t know if she would have found SWSS without the referral. But now, she’s a big proponent. “I would refer others for this with every fiber of my being,” she said. “For people with degenerative disc disease and annular tears and or any disc problems, I recommend highly they consult SWSS, if nothing else, on this type of treatment.”
They might look harmless, but even low-rise speed bumps can do serious damage. Traveling at the 35 mph speed limit near the Ontario (CA) airport one night in 2009, Stephen Case’s vehicle hit a poorly marked speed bump.
“The pain was instantaneous,” Case said, “and excruciating.
His low back pain originated from injury to his L4-5 and L5-S1 discs.
Case, 48, a computer programmer and integration architect from Mesa, (AZ), dealt with the pain for many years rather than submit to some doctors’ suggested treatments and surgery. “The options were to go in and get disc fusion,” Case said. That would mean opening up the stomach and going in from the front. “My whole focus was, there’s got to be something better,” Case explained. “What’s the latest and greatest thing going on?”
A marathoner and avid backpacker before his back injury, Case could do little without pain in his back limiting him.
An acquaintance told Case about Michael Wolff, MD and Southwest Spine & Sports. “I received a referral, from a friend who worked with someone who had a herniated disc. She said her friend would never go out with co-workers or friends, and if she did go out, she’d complain about how much her back hurt.” That behavior changed after the woman received successful treatment from SWSS, Case added.
Case underwent a comprehensive evaluation at SWSS. An MRI revealed disc deterioration and internal disc disruption of the L4-5, L5-S1 discs. After reviewing multiple treatment options, he decided to proceed with an experimental leading-edge nonsurgical treatment – Autologous Fibrin Disc Sealant. After receiving intradiscal treatment with Autologous Fibrin Disc Sealant at SWSS in September, Case estimated two months later by October, the two damaged painful discs were 90 percent improved. “I haven’t done any running or anything like that,” Case said. “I’m not expecting to marathon again, but I do hope to strap on a backpack. I can resume my normal activities.”
The first procedure brought great relief, Case said, and he’s much improved. Case noted he also loves to work on old cars. While it’s always valuable to pay attention to road conditions, “bumps on the road used to mean more.”
And Case continues to spread the word about his successful treatment, which, ironically, creates an inconvenient issue for him. “I’ve got to stop referring people because it makes it hard to get an appointment.”
Redecorating might not be considered a hazardous activity, but Nancy Melano can offer a cautionary tale.
“I put too much stress on my shoulders when I was redecorating a house,” Melano said. “I was removing pictures from the house and had my arms up all day, hammering and hanging.” The next day, Melano, 78, decided to work on the library in the house. “I was on the last run, picking up one more box of books and it felt like a rubber band broke in my left shoulder.“
After that November 2015 mishap – which also injured Melano’s right shoulder – an MRI showed the left shoulder injury was serious, but Melano learned surgery could guarantee only 30 percent chance of regaining good use of her right shoulder. Working with a physical therapist for months didn’t do much to help – and toward the end also seemed to hurt.
Everything she did cause at least a little pain. “It hurt to brush my teeth, comb my hair, even to put on body lotion and dry off with a towel,” said. The pain in her shoulder even reared when she lifted a cup of water, with both hands, or pulled the blankets up in bed.
Complicating matters for Melano, of Tempe, was a previous back injury she suffered when she worked for the U.S. Post Office, from which she retired. The shoulder injury limited her ability to exercise to maintain strength. Melano returned to her orthopedic surgeon and heard the same story. “He said there was nothing he could do,” she said.
But previous visits to Dr. Michael Wolff at Southwest Spine & Sports for back treatments led her to ask if there was anything they could do for her shoulder. There was.
The process started a little slowly as Melano received the first of three Platelet Rich Plasma injections in her shoulders. “After the injection, I couldn’t move my arm for a couple of days,” Melano said. “Now, I have no problem. I have no pain.”
Melano added she still must be careful. Putting up Christmas lights recently, she felt her shoulders tighten. “But I can live like this.” Going from a world where every movement brought pain, Melano was afraid to do even simple things. “I couldn’t put my pants on without my shoulders hurting,” she said. “That was a big job and I’m a skinny person.”
Those problems don’t exist anymore, as Melano noted she pulled her own carry-on bag on a November trip to Mexico.
“I can drive with no problem,” she said. “And I drive a Tahoe. I don’t lift 5 lb. dumbbells anymore, just the 2 or the 3, but I have my life back. And at least now, I’m smiling.”
The original back injury remains a mystery, but add a torn hamstring and any active mom would have to slow down any active mom – especially when the back injury resulted in two degenerative discs. For Astrid Corretjer, that meant the end of tennis, rollerblading, paddle boarding, and especially mountain biking.
The hamstring was recent, thanks to spinning, and the discs a few years ago. “It was horrible,” Corretjer said. “I went in for physical therapy and had so much tightness. All of the symptoms were on the left side, but I tore my right hamstring.” The tightness on the left side could have been caused by mountain biking, too. That and tennis.
Corretjer, of Scottsdale, sought conventional medical help and just dealt with the discomfort, trying “physical therapy, needles, everything you can possibly imagine,” she said. “I learned to stretch. I had to stretch big-time every day.” But her back wouldn’t allow the same activities she enjoyed before her injuries. “My physical and rehab doctor told me, ‘I don’t know what to do with you,’” Corretjer explained. “Let me send you to someone who can help.”
The trip to see someone who could help brought Corretjer to Dr. Michael Wolff, MD at Southwest Spine & Sports last spring. Corretjer had a thorough evaluation and her discs were identified as the major cause of her low back pain. She was treated with stem cell injections into each painful degenerative disc in late June. “There isn’t an on/off switch, but I started to see improvement after the third or fourth month.
While there was pain before the injections, the biggest issue Corretjer faced was the tightness. After the June stem cell treatment, she’s been working with a physical therapist and is almost back to her old line-up of activities. Corretjer describes herself as a “young 48” and can play tennis again without pain. “I can rollerblade and paddle board again, too,” she said.
Walking up and down stairs might not seem exciting. For Carol Kichler, though, climbing and descending stairs without excruciating pain is a daily highlight. Kichler, 73, couldn’t walk up or down even two steps without agonizing pain before September when she received stem cell treatments in her knees.
“My left knee hurt from exercise, but my right knee was bone on bone,” Kichler said. The Scottsdale (AZ) resident said she used the medication in the past and physical therapy to manage the pain. But her knees had caused her so much trouble, the retired mother and grandmother had to use poles to help her walk.
“We used to do a lot of hiking,” Kichler said, noting she and her husband liked to take their dogs to Flagstaff (AZ). “But I needed the poles, I had to hang onto something.”
The stem cell treatment, taken from her own abdominal fat (Autologous Lipoaspirate Mesenchymal stem cells) Kichler received at Southwest Spine & Sports provided relief.
“Am I pain-free? No, but I’m better,” Kichler said. The stem cells made a big difference with my knees.”
Kichler added she’s visited SWSS several times in the past decade for back ailments and other issues. “It seems like I see Dr. Wolff every six months,” she said with a laugh. “I hurt my shoulder working out, lifting weights. I try to stay active, that’s how I keep getting injured.”
Bending, for example, still presents trouble for her. Arthritis, too, can flare up and slow her down. “But my knees are about 85 percent better,” Kichler said.
That means she can return to many of the activities she enjoyed before knee pain sidelined her. That includes golf, training her two Papillon dogs and other activities. “I used to go square dancing,” Kichler said. “I’d like to do that again.”
And she can delight in simple activities, such as walking up and down stairs. “Before the injection I could take only two stairs,” she said. “Recently, I took 40 stairs at a shopping center, four levels of garage parking. I parked on top and walked down.”
Ed’s retirement, and accompanying occasional rounds of golf, were threatened by a bad shoulder. A combination of bursitis and a small tear in the rotator cuff of his right shoulder made golf impossible. Lifting weights about 20 years ago caused what he called “Popeye Muscle” in his right bicep, a tendon torn from the shoulder.
“If you make a fist and pull it back toward your shoulder, the bicep elongates,” Ed said. “With Popeye muscle, the muscle pops up like a mountain (like Popeye’s). It doesn’t elongate.”
Because he didn’t get proper care a couple of decades ago, Ed thought he’d have to live with the Popeye Muscle, but he still needed help with the shoulder problems. He knew just who to see. Dr. Michael Wolff treated Ed for back ailments in 2004-05, shortly after he retired. Now 72, Ed said he felt comfortable with Dr. Wolff from the start. “From day one, he said I reminded him of his dad, and he was going to treat me like his dad.”
The staff at Southwest Spine & Sports treated Ed with Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP). But he knew injecting PRP into his shoulder might not bring immediate relief. “I had to wait for 6 to 8 weeks to see if it would repair it,” Ed said of his shoulder treatment. “But it didn’t work. Sometimes, it takes two treatments.”
When the second PRP treatment didn’t seem to work, he sought a second opinion. Visiting a surgeon suggested by the SWSS staff. The surgeon viewed the MRI and told Ed there wasn’t enough damage in the rotator cuff to fix. The surgeon advised Ed to wait a little longer to see if the PRP treatment would work.
“In another 6-8 weeks, the pain was gone,” he said. “The bursitis was gone. The rotator cuff pain was gone.”
Even better, as Ed returned to lifting weights, lightly, he still had a little pain, but while doing curls, he found he again had elongation in his right bicep, meaning the Popeye Muscle condition was fixed, too.
“When I’m done lifting now, I’m pretty close to the same,” Ed said. “I pump them up, relax a little, and I have elongation I didn’t have prior to those injections. “I’m thrilled. It took longer than 6 weeks, but I’m a firm believer.”
An idyllic vacation tour of Italy in May. Lake Como, Santa Margherita, Tuscany, Florence, and the Amalfi Coast. Who wouldn’t want to go?
Maureen Anton for one, at least not with Bursitis and Arthritis.
“The pain on the top of the foot was so severe that it would keep me up almost every night,” Maureen says.
Cortisone proved helpful for both in the past. “I did experience some relief,” Maureen explains. “But I didn’t want to have steroids continually injected into my body.” Still, by February, Arthritis and Bursitis seemed to be going strong. An experienced traveler, she already knew how much walking she would do on a trip to Italy. The foot pain alone would make for unpleasant evenings on the trip she would take with her husband and another couple.
The Arthritis and Bursitis also limited activities around her Scottsdale home including spin classes and Pilates. By February, with travel to Italy a few months away, Dr. Michael Wolff, Medical Director of Southwest Spine & Sports (SWSS), suggested Maureen, 67, receive injections of Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) instead of cortisone. The aim was to provide healing as well as pain relief.
The benefit was immediate. “Within two weeks of the PRP injections, the pain level went from 8-10 down to 0-1,” Maureen explains. And the healing was evident, too. “The results were amazing,” she adds. “The swelling also was dramatically reduced.”
Some downtime followed. Dr. Wolff told her to not exercise for 8 weeks. “No hiking, no Pilates, nothing; just walking,” Maureen explains. “I followed his directions because I didn’t want to get more cortisone injections – PRP is all-natural.”
The eight weeks of healing also fit the travel schedule. By the time the restrictions ended, Maureen was jetting to Milan. The PRP injections left the Bursitis pain-free and the Arthritis in her foot didn’t even register. “I used my iPhone and looked at the distance we walked,” she said. “It was about 6-8 miles a day.”
More trips to Italy are in the planning phase, Maureen notes, including a family, stay in a Tuscan villa. For now, she’s grateful to Dr. Wolff and Southwest Spine & Sports for the freedom to travel. “I can’t express enough how pleased I am with Dr. Wolff, his manner, professionalism, accurate diagnosis and especially providing treatment options,” she says. “I highly recommend PRP treatment if it’s an option.”
William Shockley has had a lot going on during the past decade: births of two children, transition out of the U.S. Navy, and a lot of back pain.
An operations technician at an Arizona Public Service Electric Company power plant, Shockley, 33, first injured three Lumbar discs, the lowest discs, in his back sometime during his Navy service aboard a submarine a decade ago. “Initially, I hurt it a long time ago,” Shockley says. “And I didn’t have too many problems unless I was bending.”
Moving to Arizona in 2012 after completing his Navy service, Shockley and his wife welcomed a son in June 2013, to go along with a daughter born four years before. And young kids meant Shockley couldn’t escape the need to bend; at least some of the time. “I went to the store with my daughter,” Shockley recalls, “and I felt a sharp pain.”
A trip to the doctor and some pain meds made things bearable, but still not fixed. Since Shockley’s work doesn’t allow him to be on pain medication for an extended period, he used Ibuprofen regularly. “I could walk around at work,” Shockley explains, “but if my back got tight and stiff, I had to stretch.”
Something had to give. Shockley researched treatments such as stem cell therapy and found his way to Southwest Spine & Sports in June 2016, for a diagnosis. That was followed by an injection of Discography fluid around his discs, which gave the doctors better contrast when viewing images of his back. Because of his work schedule – and the fact work doesn’t allow him to stay on pain medication indefinitely – Shockley delayed the necessary procedures for about a year.
With tears in the three Lumbar discs, Shockley had his first treatment the week after Thanksgiving 2017. Dr. Michael Wolff gave him a Platelet Rich Plasma injection with Fibrin to promote the generation of collagen and scar tissue. Such a treatment requires several weeks to heal, Shockley notes. By mid-February 2018, Dr. Wolff and the staff at SWSS harvested bone marrow from Shockley’s hip, taking adult stem cells from the marrow and injected them into his hip.
A fan of hiking and mountain-biking, Shockley says he looks forward to trying both again now that he's back is sound. First, he has a follow up appoint with Dr. Wolff soon to see how he’s doing.
“I felt significantly better after the PRP and Stem Cell Therapy,” Shockley explains. “I felt better and better after the first treatment.”
Not much slows Vinceanne Casale down. Not even severe scoliosis.
“I’m a real doer, shaker, go-er,” Vinceanne says. “I just had to do it in pain.”
Until recently, she adds, when Dr. Michael Wolff and the staff at Southwest Spine & Sports treated the 73-year-old Scottsdale resident with Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA).
“It’s been wonderful since he did this procedure,” Vinceanne says. “I can do everything and without the walker or cane.” Her balance has improved, she explains, and she walks more upright after walking bent over and not being able to stand up straight for the better part of five years.
Having lived with scoliosis and ongoing discomfort all her life, the retired teacher has put up with doctor visits along with the pain. In 2007, Vinceanne had rods put in her back another medical practice, “from top to bottom,” she says. That was necessary, but still not pain-free.
“I’ve had injections at the base of my spine before,” Vinceanne says. “They helped for a limited time, but this ablation has given me relief.” She estimates her relief from pain to be around 80 percent better. “This has given me real freedom.”
Before the procedure, Vinceanne learned to accommodate the pain. She also has known Dr. Wolff and the staff at SWSS since she moved to Arizona from her native Pennsylvania 20 years ago.
“Dr. Wolff has been wonderful,” Vinceanne says. “He knows all kinds of things because I have all this hardware in my back. He’s the only doctor who’s able to navigate the needles and things and give me the epidurals.” In fact, a doctor at another practice even broke a needle off once while attempting an epidural.
Even when administered properly, epidurals and other treatments offered momentary relief. Some treatments lasted from five days to six weeks, she adds. Nothing worked long-term until the recent RFA.
The expert care has made life bearable, Vinceanne says, describing herself as a well-kept and sophisticated 73-year-0ld. She explains the back pain was difficult to bear emotionally. Despite dressing well and keeping her hair styled, the back pain took its toll before the recent ablation at SWSS. “I’m put-together, but I couldn’t walk upright, it just bothered me a lot,” she notes. “The ablation procedure gave me more than physical relief, it gave me psychological freedom.”
It’s no surprise that Vinceanne wants to spread the word about her experience with Radiofrequency Ablation at Southwest Spine & Sports. “I referred a friend to Dr. Wolff,” she says. “She thinks he walks on water.”
Active throughout his life, Gary Wojton found a new passion as soon as he moved to Arizona: Hiking.
Retiring from the Chicago Public School System and relocating to Scottsdale in 2008, Wojton started hiking as a hobby. The hobby went from a slow start to a passion as Wojton averaged 4-8 miles a day. He traveled the McDowell Mountain Trails in Scottsdale, ventured off to Sedona and even hiked the Grand Canyon (from top to bottom and back to the top again).
“I never had pain to speak of until late December 2015,” Wojton, 65, said. “I was hiking on the Pinnacle Peak Trail and about 3 miles in, I felt sharp pains in the heel and ball of my right foot.”
Thinking jagged rocks on the trail caused the pain, Wojton wasn’t too concerned. Until he tried to hike the next day and the pain came shooting back. Wojton knew proper treatment would be to give his foot a rest, ice it, and wait a few days. It didn’t work and just walking was becoming extremely difficult, it was time to see a specialist.
In a May visit to Southwest Spine & Sports, Dr. Wolff diagnosed Wojton with plantar fasciitis and reviewed treatment options. Wojton learned about the benefits of Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy. “Dr. Wolff was aware of my low tolerance for injections, especially painful ones,” Wojton said. Wojton didn’t feel any pain from the injection.
Wojton arrived for the June appointment a little uneasy, thinking about injections and heel pain.
SWSS staff drew Wojton’s blood, prepared it to PRP, gave him a tibial nerve block injection, and using ultrasound guidance, Dr. Wolff administered a tibial nerve block, waited 15 minutes and then administered PRP to his heel. As Dr. Wolff explained, Wojton didn’t feel any pain from the injections.
“Following Dr. Wolff’s advice, I tried to stay off my foot for 48 hours,” Wojton said. “Then, I did just minimal walking to get the mail or go grocery shopping.” About 4-5 weeks later, Wojton’s pain had improved from the “9” level before PRP therapy to about a 3 or 4. There was still some mild pain, but he could walk and do everyday activities – except hiking.
“Dr. Wolff knew about my love for hiking,” Wojton explained, “so he spoke with me about having one more PRP treatment.” Once again, Wojton said he felt no pain during the treatment. After 7 weeks, Wojton went on a 4-mile hike.
Wojton now feels “reborn” with a renewed appreciation for his good health and his ability to hike again. “I put Dr. Wolff as one of my Guardian Angels,” he said. “He saved me, my psychological disposition, and has helped me get back to what I love to do!”
Even the hot July sun over southern Utah couldn’t spoil a hike for Gregg Fiehler. The joy of walking has a new meaning for Fiehler. He hiked 7 miles in Zion National Park during a particularly hot and humid week this summer. The miles amounted to more than a long trek. They represented a breakthrough. Fiehler hadn’t walked half that distance in 5-6 years. Prior too recently, just a couple of miles would have created problems.
“If I got over 2 miles,” Fiehler says, “I’d pay for it that night.”
A software architect from Phoenix, Fiehler, 50, had been dealing with chronic low back pain for approximately 15 years. A variety of treatments and therapies offered only modest relief, but nothing lasted.
“I suffered the original injury 15 years ago, moving furniture,” Fiehler says. “I knew I tore something.”
The furniture move was a solo effort and Fiehler wound up on the floor, unable to move. With no one nearby to hear him, he had to pull the phone off the table by its chord to call an ambulance. Over the course of the next 15 years, Fiehler learned a lot about the nature of pain.
Fiehler underwent extensive treatment and therapies including Physical therapy, epidural injections, medication management all of which only offered moderate, short term relief. Most of Fiehler’s pain from the disc injury was nerve-related pain, he says. He endured a lot of physical therapy, but that doesn’t help nerve pain. “It made me stronger,” Fiehler says. “It kept me from injuring myself.” But the amount of pain never subsided, the number of painkillers and anti-inflammatories never decreased.
After a few epidural injections gave no relief, hope had just about vanished. “I had three,” Fiehler says. “One helped a tiny bit. One was neutral. One made me worse.”
Then, Fiehler made a visit to Southwest Spine & Sports last November. A thorough history and physical exam lead to the diagnosis of a disc tear as the possible cause of Fiehler’s chronic low back pain. He eventually underwent an injection using his own stem cells injected into the disc and it made a big difference.
Biologic therapy, autologous stem cells in Fiehler’s case offered him an opportunity to return to the active lifestyle he enjoyed before the ill-fated furniture move. “I used to run, play basketball, hike, and things like that” he says.
Stem cell therapy brings rapid relief, though full recovery is not exactly immediate. Fiehler improved to about 50% of normal use four months after the procedure. Best of all, though, Fiehler notes that 5-6 months after the first treatment, he hasn’t had any nerve pain, just muscle pain as he tries to rebuild muscles he couldn’t use because the nerve pain was strong.
“I used to wake up in the middle of the night,” Fiehler recalls. “I couldn’t sleep because the pain was so bad. Now, working with Dr. Wolff, I’ve been able to return to a muscle-strengthening program.” His work creating new software requires him to sit for long stretches. That, too, was impossible with the high level of pain he suffered. “I’ve been working 16-hour days on deadline lately,” Fiehler says. “That wasn’t possible before. Now, the muscles need work, but my back is much better.”
For nearly all his life, running was central to Brian Katz’s daily activities. “I was born to run,” Katz, 47, said. Athletic efforts included triathlons, marathons, tennis, ultimate Frisbee, and volleyball. In late 2013, though, an annoying lower back pain didn’t go away. It stayed through most of 2014. At first, he thought the soreness was a natural reaction to strenuous runs and workouts and endured it. Eventually, an intense training run produced an excruciating groin pain. After that, a 50-yard walk across the parking lot at work each day was a painful journey.
“I limped severely for a few weeks,” Katz said. “After seeing a lower back specialist, I was told my back was fine, but I had moderate to severe osteoarthritis in my right hip and my left hip wasn’t far behind.”
Katz visited an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hips and was told steroid injections would be the best option to delay the inevitable: hip replacement. “I had the injection to rule out other issues and isolate the injury,” Katz explained. “The steroid injection worked well, but by month three, I had a slight limp and the pain was slowly returning.”
The Chandler, AZ rocket engineer researched stem cell technology and visited a half-dozen local physicians who performed the procedure. He checked out physicians from across the U.S. and even abroad. All were accommodating, providing consultations and reviews of x-rays. A chat with another prominent local orthopedic surgeon, though, unlocked the puzzle: “If you want Stem Cell Therapy,” the surgeon said, “Dr. Wolff is the best I know.”
That’s all Katz had to hear. Immediately, he made an appointment with Southwest Spine & Sports.
Katz had stem cell therapy on both hips in January 2015, and a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment a month later. Four weeks after the stem cell therapy, he began a consistent weight training program focusing on his legs. Katz increased the intensity of the workouts and continues the program. “I felt progress within two weeks of the therapy,” Katz said. “By the fourth month, I had already begun light runs.” Two months later, he was running the trails at South Mountain and sprinting after a Frisbee, just like before the injury.
Katz’s notes post-therapy progress is usually measured via pain-reduction surveys, but he wanted to know what’s going on physiologically, interested in seeing tissue-regeneration evidence. Post-procedure x-rays didn’t show noticeable tissue growth, but the healing still has been remarkable. Through last fall, Katz still felt significant progress. “It’s likely we have slowed and perhaps ceased the progression of arthritic degeneration and supported tissue repair,” he said, still hoping to see that in an x-ray.
“Dr. Wolff is passionate about stem cell research and therapy and he takes personal care of his patients,” Katz said. “Prior to my treatment, I requested a wide range of information regarding equipment used, the approach, etc., right down to needle sizes. Dr. Wolff provided all of my requested information and took the time to give me a thorough understanding of the details surrounding the equipment and procedure.”
The staff at Southwest Spine & Sports are top-notch, Katz adds. “Everyone has been exceptionally accommodating: The nursing staff shows sincere compassion and the procedure is conducted in an exceptionally well-equipped modern facility and the supporting staff works like gears in a gearbox – they are an outstanding team.”
Katz notes he has no illusions the osteoarthritis is gone for good or that he can go back and run marathons and chase Frisbees at the pace he once did. “The Stem Cell treatment has given me a second chance of life, though, with renewed optimism that I can still run like the wind – but being nearly middle-aged, perhaps not as excessively as I did in my 20s.”
Rob Hoedel has worked on some of the world’s most treacherous seas and even survived a few ships sinking. A third-generation fisherman out of Kodiak Island, Alaska, Hoedel made a success of his commercial fishing operation and survived more than 50 years at sea without a major physical setback, until last summer.
Hoedel tried to pull a 120-pound halibut into his boat, the Windigo. “I hurt my rotator cuff really bad,” he explained. “I never knew there was that much pain in an injury. I couldn’t even raise my arm.”
Two small tears and one large rip. A guy who admits he doesn’t like the thought of “goin’ under the knife” or taking pain pills, Hoedel might have tried to play the tough guy and just sweat-out the long-term shoulder injury. But his brother and partner in the family fishing business, Doug, injured both shoulders before Hoedel’s summer battle with the five-foot, nine-inch Halibut. Since Doug has a summer home outside Phoenix, he went to Southwest Spine & Sports. Naturally, he told Rob about SWSS when he hurt his shoulder.
“My brother went to SWSS and had Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy in both shoulders,” Hoedel said. “He said I had to go there.”
PRP is one of the most exciting emerging forms of regenerative medicine for soft tissue injuries. Safe, effective, and all-natural, PRP heals damaged joints and soft tissue injuries while also relieving pain. PRP therapy uses a small sample of the patient’s own blood, spun in a centrifuge to concentrate platelets, then injected into the injured area. An alternative to surgery, PRP injections are getting great results for patients of all ages. The physicians at Southwest Spine & Sports have been practicing regenerative medicine for decades helping patients live pain-free, from elite athletes to weekend warriors. And now fishermen off the coast of Alaska.
Rob Hoedel became a believer immediately. Just one session improved Hoedel’s shoulder, allowing him to raise his arm above his head. But he left SWSS even more impressed with Dr. Michael Wolff’s diagnostic abilities. “He knew exactly what was hurting,” he said. “He touched a certain spot on my arm and said ‘you developed arthritis right there.’ I thought, wow, how does he know that?” Hoedel is so pleased with PRP he’s spreading the word about SWSS among his fellow Alaskan fishermen, already referring three or four friends with shoulder problems like his.
Shoulder injuries are among the most common physical ailments for fisherman, if not the most common, Hoedel noted. He hopes his friends will make the trip to SWSS since his November PRP treatments were so valuable. Good health is vital in a business known for dangerous conditions, Hoedel said. “We play for keeps.”
The image of an old cowboy riding the range for the last time, galloping off into the sunset might seem romantic, but it isn’t what Bob Ashcraft has in mind. At an age when his peers are plotting days of leisure and rest, Ashcraft has a different plan.
“I’m 76, but I don’t know it,” he says. “I still go against all of these younger fellas, but I’m still competitive.”
Competing against younger fellas means traveling across the U.S., showing horses and measuring his abilities in events that rekindle images of cowboys driving cattle from range to market. And it wouldn’t be possible if Ashcraft had both knees replaced. “I’m still active at my age,” he said. “But I’ve had buddies who’ve had knees replaced and it didn’t work out too well.” Knee replacement is OK, he added, if you don’t want to do much. But if you do, it has drawbacks.
Ashcraft went to one medical clinic where a doctor prescribed knee replacements. He went for five weeks of visits and consultations and got no results. He also described a friend, in his early 60s, who had a knee replacement and had to change his lifestyle. “They cut a nerve and he couldn’t ride anymore because he couldn’t maneuver the horse,” Ashcraft said. “Knee replacement works if you’re not very active and you take care of it.”
Despite the fact his knees were so bad, “down to bone on bone,” Ashcraft says, he didn’t want to replace them. Then, his granddaughter Megan found Southwest Spine & Sports online. After consulting with SWSS doctors and staff, Ashcraft thought he might have something. “Dr. Wolff gave me references from patients,” Ashcraft says. “I kept looking into it.”
He also asked SWSS doctors about the success rate of the stem cell procedure. “It all depends on the individual, they told me.”
It didn’t take too long before Ashcraft opted to have the stem cell therapy Dr. Wolff suggested. And when the time came for the procedure, it seemed fairly simple; far easier than knee replacements, Ashcraft found. “They just took some marrow out of my hip and put it back in my knees,” he said.
SWSS doctors told Ashcraft he could feel results in three to five months. “I felt a difference in two months,” he says. Ashcraft sees the therapy as comparable to the Fountain of Youth and is a reference for prospective SWSS patients. “I can do shows now,” he says, as well as drive a tractor across pastures near home.
The guy on water skis has a story to tell. He glides through the water with grace and ease now, but just a few months ago he wondered if he’d ever be able to move again without pain. And after nearly 20 years as a firefighter, Chris McCorkle was no stranger to pain. But 2014 was a year of agony for the 44-year-old Scottsdale entrepreneur.
“The worst part was getting up in the morning,” McCorkle said. “It was painful to move. My back was so tight.”
McCorkle has vigorously pursued a host of outdoor sports and activities most of his life, including mountain biking and tennis in addition to waterskiing. The back pain reached a level of concern two years ago, but not exactly overnight. He did have nine orthopedic operations over the past decade. The accumulation of injuries and procedures reached a painful peak in 2014. Any movement brought pain. “I had to take anti-inflammatories just to do bare necessities,” McCorkle said, “including taking my two-year-old son to school or working on the computer.”
The heightened pain caused the parade of visits to doctors’ offices to continue. One doctor diagnosed McCorkle’s problem as arthritis. Another told him he needed an ablation, a procedure to burn a nerve ending in hopes of stopping the pain, but it didn’t seem like the ultimate answer.
Through the pain, McCorkle didn’t exactly slow down. He continued his lifestyle, playing tennis, hiking, mountain biking. He just swallowed more painkillers such as Ibuprofen. He never lost his sense of freedom. It just came with a price.
“I’d wake up in the morning, brush my teeth, take Celebrex, and go on,” McCorkle said.
Painkillers don’t eliminate the source of pain. Neither did the physical therapy McCorkle tried last summer. They made it possible for entrepreneurial McCorkle to sit at a computer and run his company that makes brackets to hold lights and cameras on helmets for firefighters and other safety/response personnel.
“But that wasn’t enough,” he added. “I wanted more out of life.”
McCorkle talked to a friend who was a patient of Southwest Spine & Sports. After visiting our Scottsdale office, McCorkle learned of Stem Cell therapy, a nonsurgical regenerative treatment. McCorkle spoke with a neurosurgeon-friend on the East Coast who told him Stem Cell therapy is the future of injury treatment.
So Thanksgiving 2014 McCorkle took the medical advice and decided to go ahead with Southwest Spine & Sports and their Stem Cell treatment. After a week of complete rest as prescribed by Dr. Michael Wolff, McCorkle began to return to his very active lifestyle. In December, he even rode bicycles around his neighborhood with his son. In January, he got back on his water skis.
His wife noticed he no longer went through a mental calculation of whether a particular movement would be worth the pain it brought. “I used to think about how bad something would hurt tonight, tomorrow, or the next day before doing it,” he said. Now McCorkle does anything he did before without paying for it. “The Stem Cell treatment was life-changing for me.”