SA mom's ability to use own stem cells as medicine in Texas closer to reality

Texas House Bill 810 passes state House, moves on to Senate

SAN ANTONIO – An emotional fight for a San Antonio mom to use her own stem cells as medicine is one step closer to a win for her and other advocates. 

Giggles echoed through the quiet street outside Stefanie Cowley's house as her son Tyler sat on her lap and they raced her new wheelchair down the road. Before July 2014, Cowley never dreamed of being able to play with her son again.

"Just little things like that, that make a huge difference in your life, and you thought you had lost forever," she said. 

Multiple sclerosis had left Cowley bed-ridden and in excruciating pain for a full year before. Medications weren't working and she had lost hope until she found adult stem cell therapy.

Her stem cells come from her fat. After a quick liposuction, staff at Houston stem cell bank Celltex take those fat cells, expand them and store them. A one hour infusion treatment through an IV injects the stem cells back into Cowley's body whenever she needs it. She's had three therapy sessions since 2014 and has another planned for this year.

"There are no new lesions in my spine. The brain fog lifted. I was able to keep score at my son's basketball game," she said.

Since the first therapy session, Cowley's inflammation and pain have decreased and her range of motion has increased so much that she can now stand up straight in her wheelchair when she needs to reach something or talk with someone face to face.

Still, the therapy she credits her life to is illegal in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration said cells removed from someone's body for more than 24 hours become a drug and are subject to testing and clinical trials. Some opponents have called into question the safety of stem cell therapy because it's so new.

"It’s been proven safe over and over and over worldwide," Cowley said.

Cowley flies to Cancun, Mexico, every time she gets the therapy, which is about once a year. Others travel to Panama, Germany or Israel to get the therapy.

Once Cowley got involved in the fight to bring stem cell therapy to the United States, she began meeting many other patients who also travel for their adult stem cell treatment. These patients had all kinds of diseases and disorders.

"Cancers, autoimmune diseases, Parkinson's, rheumatoid arthritis and recently, I even knew someone who had taken their child down for autism," Cowley said.

In January, District 63 state Rep. Tan Parker introduced House Bill 810 to allow stem cell therapy in Texas. Cowley got heavily involved, and on April 18, she traveled to Austin and gave a three-minute testimony to the Texas House Public Health Committee.

Other advocates addressed the whole house, including District 68 state Rep. Drew Springer, who emotionally pleaded with his colleagues to listen to the bill, even though it was midnight.

"This might give somebody like my wife a chance to walk," he cried as several colleagues patted his back and handed him tissues. "Members, if you could find it in your heart tonight, I'd appreciate it. Thank you."

The bill easily passed through the House.

"It was exciting to have a voice in the Texas Legislature because patients don’t often have the ability to get out and talk," Cowley said. "More and more, I feel like I have to get out there and talk and tell people there is hope."

With her son reading to her in her lap, Cowley has a very clear reason for fighting and won't be stopping any time soon.

The bill now heads to the state Senate committee and then to the state Senate floor. Cowley plans to give her testimony in front of the state Senate as well.

To see the full bill's text, history and more, click here.


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About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.