Neil Barron, friends raising money for stem cell treatments
By ALLISON KENNEDY
Neil Barron feels he’s on the brink of improving the quality of his 29-year-old life. On Dec. 28, he’s to undergo the first of two umbilical cord stem cell treatments in China.
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“It’s a very big deal. There’s a great potential that I could stand and walk,” said Barron, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 2 and has used a wheelchair most of that time.
“At the very most, it will give me freedom, mobility and independence.”
Now he’s trying to raise money.
In recent years, Barron, who lives in Phenix City with his 83-year-old grandmother/caretaker Hazel Willis, has been a dogged researcher about adult stem cell treatments. He found one place in Germany that could help him, and the other in China.
“The Chinese have encouraged scientists to come from all over the world and pursue stem cell research,” he said. “They found out embryonic research was dead, so the Chinese government endorsed adult stem cell treatment.”
Cerebral palsy (CP), or static encephalopathy, is the name for a collection of movement disorders caused by brain damage that occurs before, during or shortly after birth. A person with CP is often also affected by other conditions caused by brain damage.
The affected muscles of a person with CP may become rigid or excessively loose, or the person may lose control of muscles, or have problems with balance and coordination.
Barron has little control of his limbs as they make involuntary movements. He has contracted muscles in the back of both knees and finds it difficult to sit up straight in his wheelchair. His eyes are impaired and sensitive to bright light. “My body just won’t do what my brain wants it to,” he told the Ledger-Enquirer last spring.
Cerebral palsy affects approximately 500,000 children and adults in the United States, and is diagnosed in more than 6,000 newborns and young children each year.
It is not in itself terminal, though infections associated with CP -- often in the lungs -- can lead to premature death.
Barron contends the treatment isn’t available in the United States “because pharmaceutical companies would lose a lot of money if it became mainstream.” The treatment remains in its infancy here.
The cost of the two treatments in China will be $46,000. It will take place in a city named Shijiazhuang.
Add airfare and food and accommodations for two and it could rise to $60,000, he said.
An account in the name of E. Neil Barron is set up at Regions Bank.
His advocates locally are the Rev. Tom Weise of St. Patrick’s and Mother Mary Catholic churches in Phenix City; and Allen Woodall, a businessman and friend of Weise who’s a member of St. Paul United Methodist in Columbus. Another friend is Florida resident Carol Peterson, whose own grandson was treated for his blindness in China. Peterson and Barron correspond often.
Barron said he’s a Christian but is unable to attend services because of his handicap. In 2009, Barron spoke at a Stem Cell Awareness Conference in Springfield, Mo. “Stem cells are being used here in race horses and dogs,” Barron said. “If it wasn’t safe, people wouldn’t let it be used in their beloved animals.”
Allison Kennedy, reporter, can be contacted at 706-576-6237.