I Will Walk Again - The Laura Dominguez StoryBy David Prentice Senior Fellow for Life Sciences
An oil spill on a San Antonio freeway is blamed for the car crash that sent Laura and her brother directly into a retaining wall one summer afternoon in 2001. Laura was just 16 years old at the time and the crash left her completely paralyzed from the neck down. Surgeons say she suffered what's known as a C6 vertebrae fracture that severely damaged her spinal cord.
"I refused to accept their prognosis that I never would walk again and began searching for other options," says Laura. After stays in several hospitals for nearly a year, Laura and her mother relocated to San Diego, CA so that she could undergo extensive physical therapy. While in California, they met a family whose daughter was suffering from a similar spinal cord injury. They were also looking for other alternatives to deal with spinal cord injuries.
After extensive research and consultations with medical experts in the field of spinal cord injuries, they decided to explore a groundbreaking new surgical procedure using adult stem cells pioneered by Dr. Carlos Lima of Portugal.
The surgery involved the removal of tissue from the olfactory sinus area- at the back of the nose--and transplanting it into the spinal cord at the injury site. Both procedures, the harvesting of the tissue and the transplant, were done at the same time. Laura was the tenth person in the world and the second American to have this procedure done and was featured in a special report by PBS called "Miracle Cell." (Link to Miracle Cell (PBS) Episode)
Following the surgery she returned to California where she continued with the physical therapy regimen, then eventually returned home to San Antonio. Upon her return home, an MRI revealed her spinal cord was beginning to heal. Approximately 70% of the lesion now looked like normal spinal cord tissue. More importantly to Laura, she began to regain feeling in parts of her upper body and within six months of the surgery regained feeling down to her abdomen.
Improvements in sensory feelings have continued until the present time. She can feel down to her hips, and has regained feeling and some movement in her legs. Laura's upper body has gained more strength and balance and one of the most evident improvements has been her ability to stand and remain standing, using a walker, and with minimal assistance. When she stands she can contract her quadriceps and hamstring muscles.
"Every week it seems I'm able to do something new, something different that I hadn't done the week before," says Laura.
Now Laura's story is poised to take a new, potentially groundbreaking turn. In the Fall of 2009, she traveled again to Portugal where adult stem cells were extracted from her nose for culturing. As this story is written, she is preparing to fly back to Portugal where scar tissue at her injury site will be removed and her own adult stem cells injected in the area of her original wound.
The Laura Dominguez story is not complete. The next chapter may or may not yield the results she seeks-but no one can deny the determination and courage of Laura. For her part, she has one goal in mind: "I will walk again."