A reader alerted me to another tragic case of a needless death associated with a stem cell treatment, this time involving a young British man with spinal cord injury, who traveled to Ecuador for an injection of something advertised as “stem cells” at what the Croydon Guardian reports was the Hospital San Francisco. The patient developed a serious headache after his surgery, and died less than a week later. Although the details are just beginning to surface, the surgery and death occurred in 2009.

A second newspaper, Croydon Today, has even more horrific, first-person details of the treatment this young man and his family received at the hands of his exploitative and irresponsible treatment providers. The full story is certainly worth reading in its entirety, so I will only highlight a few statements by his mother.

“We ended up going to a different hospital in Ecuador and we were a bit confused about that.”

 “Not one of the nurses spoke English. We had an interpreter but she was only there for certain times of the day.”

(reporting her son’s own words after the operation) “I think this headache is going to kill me, Mum.”

Less than five days later, her son was dead. She says the hospital then told her “not to worry about the extra $10,000 she owed, adding: ‘Just don’t say anything when you get home and we’ll call it quits.'” I am sure she felt she had little recourse, as she was stranded with her dead child, thousands of miles from home, in a country where she couldn’t speak the language. 

An inquest found the cause of death to autonomic dysreflexia, which was more likely triggered by surgical stress than whatever it was they injected into him. But regardless of whether it was actual stem cells, or a slurry of unsorted cells, or fragments of dead cells, or saline, or dihydrogen monoxide or whatever, the point is that he didn’t need to travel halfway around the world to undergo an operation with no evidence to suggest that it might be effective, or even safe, only to end up dying in pain in a two-bit clinic that looks like a refurbished, but still seedy, motel. 

The hospital website shows it to be a typical “medical tourism” operation of the sort found in many parts of Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, a business model that all too often is seen, incorrectly, as a quick fix for the local economy and easy money for doctors from catering to “rich foreign patients.” But the reality is, the medical tourism industry is already well over capacity in many regions, which drives some clinics (like this one) to try to carve a niche for themselves farther and farther from the standard of care, in the hopes of luring  “no option” patients. (Calling their patients this also allows stem cell racketeers to wash their hands and claim their victims had nothing left to lose anyway).  

Oh, hell, the whole rotten business just makes me sick and angry. It’s 3:00 in the morning and I’m going to bed. I’ll leave you with one bereaved mother’s words of warning.

“To anybody considering this type of treatment I would say it’s not safe and don’t do it. They’re like lambs to the slaughter with a process like that.”