Iowa Athlete Has Controversial Stem Cell Therapy

By Liz Collin, WCCO-TV

LAKE MILLS, Iowa (WCCO) — A high school football player paralyzed on the field made a trip to India for controversial treatment.  He spent three months in New Delhi, India for human embryonic stem cell therapy.

Three years ago, Tyler was a junior playing in his first game of the season in Lake Mills, Iowa.

On the first play of the football game, Tyler made a tackle, but put his head down.  He was paralyzed from the chest down.

Since his transplant, Tyler has made amazing progress.

But, as Bart Winter, Tyler’s Stepfather points out, Tyler’s doctors told him the trip to India could kill him.

“He said do not do this just flat out just don’t do it. It is against my advice to do this period,” Winter said.

Tyler said he had to make the decision for himself.

“If people knew what kind of things spinal cord patients go through that stem cell could help I think they’d look at it a different way.  You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Tyler said.

Dr. Geeta Shroff’s clinic in New Delhi, India, is the first in the world to develop an infinite number of stem cell lines from just one donated embryo. Over the years, she has treated more than 300 patients with no serious side effects.

For three months, Tyler was given two stem cell injections each day, followed with a rigorous physical therapy schedule.

Tyler took a camera along to India to show the progress he has made. His legs are braced in one video and he stands alone for five minutes. In another recording, he takes some small steps, the first since his accident.

His mother, Medara Winter, said the progress has been amazing.

“I don’t think anyone can imagine except a mom,” she said.

“Just to see people get better in the state we are it’s amazing,”  Tyler said.

Tyler came back to Lake Mills, Iowa in April.  He wasted no time getting back to work.

His physical therapist, Peggy Martin said she has noticed big changes.

“His left was definitely weaker. I’d say by 50% or more and now I’d say his left is almost stronger than his right,” Martin said.

Tyler has also been able to sleep in his room alone.  It’s something he hasn’t done since the accident.

“If there’s a chance to make it better and get better why not take it,” he said.

“This isn’t how it’s going to be for the rest of Tyler’s life because there is all kinds of possibilities of new hope,” Medara said.

Tyler’s stem cells will continue to grow into tissue.  He could see even more results in the next six months.  The treatment is not covered by insurance and can cost as much as $50,000.  Once Tyler’s progress plateaus, doctors want Tyler to go back and get more stem cell injections.

More from Liz Collin
  • Matthew

    Good for him. Why exactly is he not able to get this treatment in America again?

  • Natalie

    The US does not support and has only recently performed the first EMBRYONIC STEM
    CELL research. Worried about cloning and religion…hard to say I think those are logical reasons to banish this research. This research could cure literally hundreds of illnesses.

  • Andrew

    @ Matthew

    Because it’s quackery and fraud and in this country we have something called standards of evidence and care. Injecting some random embryonic stem cells into someone won’t do anything except illicit an immune response, killing the foreign cells. And even if they weren’t killed, stem cells don’t even work that way. Embryonic stem cells are contingent on their environment to form new organs an tissue; they won’t do what they do in utero in a grown human.

    This station should be ashamed of itself for promoting snake oil. If this really worked, then please provide clinical evidence for efficacy. That would be the responsible and ethical thing to do. Don’t do a puff piece on someone being swindled out of an enormous amount of money.

    • Pat

      You need to read the scientific literature on stem cell research.

      • Andrew

        This wasn’t research. You don’t pay to be a part of research. They pay you.

        • matthew

          Andrew, with all due respect, standards of evidence don’t just exist in the US. The clinic in Delhi has published this past Spring results of their treatments. And you should research a little more about how esc’s operate in the body when they have both been ‘nudged’ into specific cell types (neurons, astrocytes, etc…) before you categorically claim it as snake oil. Not to say there aren’t snake oil salesmen out there…just don’t think its the case where Tyler went

  • AMX

    It is not available here, because the quack religious mouthpieces would not be able to cash in and buy Versace suits and Cadillacs if we used science, reason, logic and experimentation in health care instead of 2000 year old books. And, if those parsons cannot collect from their sheep, neither will half of the US Senators and Congresspeople. And, this is America. Our GOP elected officials deserve only the best.

  • Citizen

    Tyler has offered himself up to science–a courageous act on his part. As Tyler himself pointed out, if people knew what spinal cord patients go through, they would understand why he is trying the embryonic stem cells. What has he got to lose? And science has everything to gain. You go, Tyler! You are brave.

    • shannon

      I absolutely agree. Drugs and therapy go through trials on humans to see if and how they work. Without people willing to go through those treatments when they are being tested life as we know it would be completely different.

      • Brad

        Agreed Citizen. I’m not sure that I would do it, but for he has taken a chance to gain progress. If he recovers to a remarkable level, this will spark more interest in the field with the hopes that we can use this science in a respectful way.

  • Cara

    Obviously it comes back to the extra dirty hands in our politician’s pockets. Why in the world would you want to cure someone so they no longer have to pay high deductibles, and prescription costs? What on earth would happen to our precious billion dollar profiting insurance/pharmaceutical companies if we actually used science to cure/fix people?

  • Andrew

    @ Citizen

    Two things: I can empathize with someone who has had a terrible injury. They’re scared and frustrated and their whole life has changed forever. Nothing is going to be the same for them ever again. Doctors have told them that they will probably never walk again, and if they do, it will not be with the same mobility and agility. Such desperate people are easy prey for any charlatan who wants to make easy money. All they have to do is tell them exactly what they want to hear (“Sure, you’ll walk again. It will be like nothing’s changed”) whether or not it’s true.

    Second: Our medical system already has in place a method for determining efficacy of novel treatments. There is a proper process from pilot studies to phase 1-3 clinical trials before a treatment is considered safe and effective. This farce of a procedure skips all of that. All any immoral person has to do is go to a country without any standards of medical care or ethics and they can rake in money from desperate people. What has Tyler got to lose? Apparently $50,000.

    Again, this is terrible reporting. Here’s a report on “Science-Based Medicine” on human testing and the ethics associated with it.

    It took me two minutes to do a search for it. Apparently that is too much time for the journalist and producer of this story. Shame.

    • stace34

      You don’t think doctors and hospitals here get paid? If you have insurance don’t they pay your medical bills or do the doctors and hospitals donate their time and not charge you anything? The reason if cost them $50,000 is because it is not covered by insurance.

      Plus your assumption that because this is done in another country so they have not done any clinical testing is absurd and ignorant. They would want their process to be taken seriously and want others to be able to replicate it. So they would follow an established, accepted testing process. To assume that since it did not happen in America it did not happen is ignorant.

      Shame on you for not taking the time to really know anything about the process that this hospital took. Shame on you for thinking since it did not happen here it must be invalid. Shame.

      • Andrew

        The reason it’s not covered by insurance is because there has been no demonstration of efficacy. Stem cell research is still in it’s infancy; it is nowhere near clinical application. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to defraud you. Maybe in the future such a treatment will work. But we currently don’t have the technology to do what this doctor claims.

        Here’s an introductory article on medical tourism:

        I don’t have some sort of nationalistic concern that he’s seeking treatment in another country; I’m concerned that the country he’s going to has a lower standard of care than here.

        I’m a bit confused as to what part of my argument you’re objecting to. Is it the part where I say we should have a high standard of care and we shouldn’t promote dubious and unproven treatments? Is it the part where I think we shouldn’t waste money on treatments which have no prior plausibility of working (i.e. Injecting random stem cells into someone is only going to cause their immune system to kill the invading cells)? Is it my thinking that the news media has a responsibility to expose fraud and not promote it?

        I’ll make my objection simple: there’s no compelling evidence that this treatment does anything to help the patient. Provide some and I’ll change my mind.

        • rootlady

          Wikipedia is your source of truth? That figures.

          • Andrew

            A genetic logical fallacy. Nice. If Wikipedia says that 2+2=4, is it wrong just because it’s on Wikipedia? If the article is inaccurate, be specific. If it’s not, address my point. Medical tourism exists and other countries often have lower standards of care than the US. How does your comment rebut any of that?

  • Mae Rights

    I hardly think that, given his remarkable progress, Tyler is a “desperate person who is easy prey for any charlatan who wants to make easy money.” Stem cell treatments are working for thousands of people. The religious right loonies in this country are trying to get us back to the 17th century. There is nothing “Christian” about holding medical science hostage because of the belief system based on a 2000 year old book. Americans should be sick of the tyranny of the religious right, start using their brains, and vote people like that out of office. Permanently.

    • Andrew

      Read the article again. He was given stem cells and then went through “rigorous physical therapy”. It’s not unheard of that young people can make surprising recoveries from devastating accidents through determination and hard work. It is far more likely that this is the cause of his recovery than an unproven treatment. The quack doctor then takes all the credit for his recovery while doing none of the work.

      I don’t know where you are going with the Christian thing. Do you think that I was making an argument based on Christianity? I wasn’t. I’m an atheist. I agree that we shouldn’t be basing our medical care–or society in general–on ancient books. But I’m also a skeptic, so I do think that we should be basing policy on evidence and logic. There is no evidence that this treatment works, and anyone with a basic understanding of immunology can see why. If you want to change my mind (and the medical community’s) then provide evidence that this treatment works.

  • Bill

    The controversy comes from the potential slippery slope. I am thrilled he has gotten good results. Happy for you. I do have first had exerience working with and trying to help remedy challenges people with spinal cord injuries face daily, and it is fair to say those challenges are obvious and great and no one would want them or wish them on an enemy. That said, we have been given one life and the POTENTIAL to take or use someone elses (who is still only an embryo) to better our own is a road I don’t want to go down.

  • clb1

    For all of you who don’t understand this family and especially Tyler, SHAME ON YOU! You have no idea what this family has been though and what Tyler has accomplished because of his will and determination. Unless you have walked in there shoes don’t judge, don’t presume to know what they have gone through. I know first hand, seen the results. been there from day of injury. GO TYLER!! Thank you India for doing what America should be doing to help millions of people.

    • Andrew

      My argument isn’t based on knowing what the family has been through, although I’m sure it’s been awful. My argument is based on science and compelling evidence, or in this case, the lack of both. You yourself just said that Tyler accomplished this because of his will and determination. That’s why he’s better. He’s the one who should be praised, not an unproven therapy. He’s the one who made himself better, through his own hard work, not some quack. Not only has this doctor taken $50,000 of his money, she’s taken the credit for his recovery as well.

  • Victim Du Jour

    Who died and made you such a big deal? I highly doubt I have to lose any sleep over what you think.

    I must have hit close to the mark to get you all riled up like this. Your contempt is my badge of honor.

  • stillh20

    Andrew, I have a question for you, do you have kids?

    • Andrew

      No, I don’t. It’s also irrelevant. Whether or not I have children won’t change the fact that this treatment lacks compelling evidence for efficacy. If you are going to respond that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’ve never felt what those parents felt, you’re right, I don’t know how they feel. But how I feel, or how they feel, won’t change reality. It may make me feel better to think that I have a million dollars in the bank, but that won’t help me pay off my debts.

      I do know that if my child were injured I would find the best medical attention I could afford. And by best, I mean those therapies and treatments that have been shown to work.

  • NLH70

    This is a great opportunity for a person who has the will and determination to get back what was taken from them. It was his choice to do this therapy, not yours. We live in America where people are free to do what they want so if he wanted to go to India since it was not offered here, who cares. Worry about yourself or get a job to keep you from trying to bring down others.

    • Andrew

      Despite living in America, I am not free to do whatever I wish. I am not free to defraud you or anyone else. Nor are doctors free to commit medical fraud. That’s why he had to leave the country for this “treatment”. We have higher standards here.

      • rootlady

        It’s not a standards thing, Andrew. America would be doing what India is doing if it were legal here. So as soon as the opposition to stem cell research is overcome, you can bet every medical research team in the country is going to be thinking about hopping on the stem cell bandwagon..

        • Andrew

          Except this wasn’t research. I agree that the government should stop imposing unnecessary restrictions on organizations who do stem cell work. Once that happens the field could really open up and has the potential to produce a lot of new and beneficial technologies. I support that.

          Except, again, this wasn’t research. I could go into how pilot studies and phase 1-3 clinical trials work and how stem cell research hasn’t reached this kind of human testing, but I don’t need to in order to demonstrate that this wasn’t about research. The smoking gun is that he had to pay them ($50,000!) to get this treatment. When you take part in human trials, you never have to pay money. Oftentimes, they pay you. This was fraud.

  • rootlady

    I believe the Iowa High School Athletic Association is picking up the bill for the treatment because Tyler was injured while playing a high school game.

  • humbleservant

    You’re all wrong and stupid. The kid got his legs back. YAY! It wasn’t science that did it. It was JESUS!

    • poopsadoopsit


  • lovelife

    Andrew, we can see you are so passionate about research and stem cell therapy, write your legislator, join a medical blog – don’t do it here.

    • Andrew

      How do you know that I haven’t written my legislators? And in doing so, how does that preclude me from criticizing poor reporting when I see it? Am I only allowed to do one or the other? Do I need to sign up beforehand? Do I need to ask you personally, or is there some registry?

      • lovelife

        You need to get out more and connect with others on a more personal level and not be so analytical. Let loose a bit, life is too short.

  • Deanna

    The reason insurance won’t cover it is because it’s done in another country. Unfortunately here there’s a lot of disagreement about using embryonic stem cells because they’re against abortion. These cells can be used in different cases & can definitely produce drastic results. I even read recently that they may be able to “make” these cells in the laboratory soon so they may not need aborted fetuses for the cells. Sounds so ridiculous that once his progress plateaus the doctors want him to go back to INDIA for more injections instead of helping him HERE with that. Also- PARENTS- DON’T LET YOUR KIDS PLAY FOOTBALL IF YOU DON’T WANT THEM TO BE PARALYZED. There’s even a club in this country of teenagers paralyzed because of football. There’s quite a few of them.

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