AURORA, Colo. — How far would you go for your child? A family in Aurora is willing to spend hundreds of hours, spend thousands of dollars, and fly thousands of miles all for a chance that it could improve their son’s quality of life.
“He’s perfect the way he is”
That’s how Josh Thornton describes his son Jayden. The 9-year-old boy likes sports and spending time with his family. He was also born two months early, and when he turned 2, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
“Just like any parent with special needs you’re not really prepared for it,” Jayden’s mom, Sarah, told Denver7.
“My wedding ring actually fit around his hand,” Josh added.
Jayden spends his time in one of two wheelchairs, one a power chair he drives himself, the other a self-powered chair.
“The first time we heard him come home and say, 'I wish I could walk' was devastating,” his dad said. “That hurt more than anything I’ve had to deal with in my life.”
“He should be able to fulfill his life the way he wants to. And if we can help him get there then we will do anything we can to help him,” his mom said through tears.
Across the world
That got the family interested in the idea of stem cell therapy. The Thorntons found The Stem Cell Institute in Panama. They’re one of the few clinics in the world with a specific form of treatment for children like Jayden.
“The one in Panama does a series of injections directly in his spine,” Josh said.
The clinic uses stem cells from a newborn’s umbilical cord that are donated after healthy births.
“And these cells are basically biologic (sic) garbage and they’re thrown away (normally),” Dr. Neil Riordan of The Stem Cell Institute said in a video describing the process.
Dr. Riordan and his team instead use the cells in potentially life-changing ways.
“They secrete a batch of molecules that stimulate regeneration, that decrease inflammation, and modulate the immune system,” he said.
The clinic has published results of treatment for children like Jayden. Josh Thornton cited a case of a little girl who was nonverbal and unable to walk, received treatment, and was eventually able to speak and walk with the use of a walker.
“Specifically for [Jayden] they would help stimulate the regeneration of the brain tissue that is dead,” Josh Thornton said.
Stem cells continue to be a hot topic across the U.S., something the Thornton’s acknowledge. Research on this type of stem cell and treatment is still being done in our country. The procedure has been used in Panama since 2007, according to the clinic’s website.
“What we’re talking about doing is not illegal. It doesn’t even violate U.S. law,” Jayden’s dad explained. “The cells in Panama are still in clinical trials here.”
Thousands for a chance
The family and the boy know full well that the results of this type of treatment could range from nothing to a spectrum of results. But even with the potentially large chance that the treatment won’t work, they are willing to spend the $18,000 to take that chance for their son.
“That’s really the only gamble, is the money. And in the scope of his life and making it better, money is not my concern,” Josh Thornton said.
The family started a GoFundMe titled “Steps for Jayden” behind the idea (and wristband) of "Team Jayden."
Denver7’s Jason Gruenauer asked Jayden, “What is being on Team Jayden all about?”
“Um…. Me,” Jayden said, to laughter from his parents.
“It’s been impressive, the outpouring of friends and family and strangers alike, that have caught wind of his story and chipped in,” his dad said.
Over the course of a few months, the family raised the $18,000. Their trip is in October.
“We both want to know that we tried everything for him that he can have the best life that he can have,” his mom added.
Praying for a miracle
The Thorntons say they’re well aware their son’s body could reject the stem cell treatment, or that it couldn’t work to repair his brain tissue. They’re hoping it could help with his back muscles which are strained sitting in a wheelchair. They’re praying for a miracle.
“If it could get him to the point where he could walk I don’t think I have words to describe that feeling,” Jayden’s dad said.
“What are you hoping for as you get older and as you grow up?” Gruenauer asked Jayden. The boy whispered back, “For me to walk.”