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Stem cell treatment gives hope to Bedford man

In March, Andre Lampkin, 20, was facing the amputation of his legs and arms.

But an experimental treatment using his own stem cells to stimulate tissue growth is giving the former L.D. Bell High School wide receiver hope after meningitis damaged his extremities.

Two weeks after treatment, the soles of his feet and palms of his hands are softening, his circulation has improved, and his right foot is moving, said Dr. Zannos Grekos, the cardiologist who is treating Lampkin, now at the hospital in Naples, Fla., where Grekos is based.

"It looks like we have already saved his legs and arms," Grekos said. "Now we're hoping to save most of each foot and his hands."

Lampkin's medical odyssey has taken him from his home in Bedford to a hospital in an island country for a treatment the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved.

Sudden onset

It began when Lampkin, a freshman attending Cisco Junior College on an athletic scholarship, returned home for spring break.

That Friday he was fine. But on Saturday while visiting friends, he complained of having a headache and went to bed early, said Michelle Gideon, Lampkin's godmother.

The next morning -- Easter Sunday -- she found him lying on a bedroom floor.

"One side of his face looked totally normal, but the other side was swollen and looked like he had chickenpox," she recalled.

Lampkin was rushed to Harris Methodist H.E.B. Hospital, where he was treated for bacterial meningitis. Those chickenpoxlike spots were signs of clots cutting off blood flow.

Antibiotics helped stabilize Lampkin, who was transferred to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

There doctors planned to amputate his legs at the knees and his arms at the elbows.

But an aunt searched the Internet for other treatments and found Grekos, who was using adult stem cells to stimulate tissue regrowth, improve circulation and reduce diabetic amputation rates. Grekos, director of cardiology and vascular disease at Regenocyte Therapeutic in Florida, flew to Dallas to escort Lampkin and his mother to the facility.

"If there was any hope of helping this young man we wanted to offer it," he said.

Once Lampkin was in Florida, his blood was drawn and sent to a lab in Israel.

Although it was Passover and the lab staffers were on vacation, they agreed to process the blood, Grekos said. The cells were then replicated into millions of super cells that Grekos' company has branded "Renocytes." The cells can become almost any type of new cell or tissue, he said.

Experimental treatment

Luis Parada, director of developmental biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, studies stem cell research, which he considers still in its infancy. For that reason, Parada urged caution for anyone considering such experimental treatment.

Because the FDA has not approved the treatment, such procedures must be performed abroad.

"The whole basis for the FDA is to ensure when someone claims a therapy has success it is based on science," Parada said.

Grekos said he has used adult stem cells to treat patients for cardiovascular, lung and kidney. But he had never used the technology with a patient who was suffering tissue decay due to meningitis.

Because he had successfully used stem cells to regenerate blood flow to the heart, Grekos decided to apply the same approach to Lampkin's case.

A week after Lampkin's blood was drawn, he was flown to the Metropolitan Hospital of Santiago in the Dominican Republic. There, millions of stem cells were injected into Lampkin's hands and feet. Since his own blood was used, there was no risk of rejection, Grekos said.

Lampkin returned to Florida, where he'll stay at least another week before coming back to Dallas for further treatment.

Community aid

The L.D. Bell Booster Club has set up a fund to help cover Lampkin's medical care.

Among the donors are members of Bell's rival football team, Trinity High School.

When Lampkin was at Bell he was a tremendous competitor, said Gary Olivo, a coach at the high school.

"He worked very hard and was always determined to give his best effort," he said.

That same drive is helping Lampkin get through each difficult day, said his mother, Yolanda Jackson.

Although he cannot use his hands or feet, he's trying to stay optimistic.

She, too, is hopeful that he'll be able to walk without a prosthetic and use his hands again.

His blood, once blocked at the knee, is now flowing to his ankles and moving downward.

"That's a wonderful thing," she said.