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Crash victim wants stem cells’ help

Sharon Sullivan
Grand Junction Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Sharon Sullivan/Grand Junction Free PressJordanne Menzies lives in an apartment attached to her parents' house with her Labradoodle dog Homer and a parrot named Muffy.
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado ” More than a year ago today, Jordanne Menzies fell asleep at the wheel while driving back home to Grand Junction from Denver.

Menzies had just pulled off Interstate 70 at the Clifton exit when the crash happened. Both she and her passenger had fallen asleep.

She wasn’t wearing her seat belt and was thrown from the car. Her head hit the pavement, causing head and neck injuries that left the 22-year-old a quadriplegic.

Her friend, who also wasn’t wearing at seat belt, suffered only minor injuries.

After a three-month stay at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver, Menzies came home to live with her father and stepmother, Steve and Deb Menzies, in Fruita. An apartment attached to their house gives Menzies some semblance of independence.

Special features on Menzies’ wheelchair allow her mouth to take the place of her hands. A straw-like tube gives her a drink of water. She can move her wheelchair backward or forward, or to the side by blowing into another tube. A mouth stick allows her to punch numbers into her cell phone.

“It works,” said Menzies, with a wry smile. “It helps me be more independent. I can get my alone time. Everybody needs alone time. I constantly have people around me.”

A certified nursing assistant comes to Menzies’ apartment during the week, to get her up in the morning, and then to put her to bed at night ” a process that take two hours each time.

Her dad and stepmom of 20 years get up in the middle of the night to turn their daughter. Menzies has a call button and can page them if she’s too cold, too hot, or can’t breathe.

Menzies’ mother Catherine, who lives in Grand Junction, spends every weekend at the Menzies’ Fruita home to care for her daughter. Catherine also spends Tuesday nights and often another week night with her daughter.

“We all work together,” Deb said. “It’s hard, but Jordanne has an incredible spirit. She’s determined not to be grumpy and make others miserable around her.”

Although doctors told Menzies she’d never walk again, she doesn’t believe it. A year after the car accident Menzies enrolled at Mesa State College, where she began researching and writing papers on stem cell therapy.

She’s convinced she’s found a way to at least feed herself, brush her teeth, and put on makeup.

Menzies applied for and has been accepted for treatment at the Institute of Cellular Medicine in Costa Rica, where stem cells harvested from umbilical cords of healthy, full-term, live births are used. The institute also uses stem cells from patients’ own blood, bone marrow, and fat.

Stem cells are the foundation cells for every cell, organ and tissue in the body. Stem cells are self-sustaining and can replicate themselves, which makes them promising for treating a wide range of debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injury, according to the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

In January, Menzies will travel to Costa Rica for a week to receive four stem cell replacement therapy treatments. Doctors will inject stem cells directly into the injured spots in her neck: C-3, C-4, and C-5.

She’s hopeful, she said, because she didn’t actually break her neck. It was “bruised and swollen and lost the connection,” she said.

“My ultimate goal, or wish, is to walk,” Menzies said. “There’s no guarantee that anything will happen, but it’s worth a try. I just have a feeling something is going to work, whether it’s one arm, or everything.”

Menzies’ father Steve searched, but said he was unable to locate U.S. clinics providing stem cell replacement therapy.

President Bush imposed a ban on future federal funding of embryonic stem cell research in 2001. The President vetoed bills that would have eased that ban in 2006, and 2007.

Some U.S. researchers have left the country to collaborate with overseas laboratories where stem-cell research is practiced. Other countries providing the therapy include India, China, and Korea.

Steve is hopeful that his daughter will at least be able to use an arm and a hand.

“That right there would be phenomenal,” Steve said. “She has to rely 100 percent on everything to be done for her,” even when it comes to scratching her nose, Steve said.

Menzies’ family is busy organizing fundraisers to help pay for the $17,000 treatment, and to help defray costs of all three parents’ and Menzies’ trip to Central America.

“I have to take my parents with me because I need their care. I can’t go by myself,” Menzies said.

The family found an organization that pays $5 to $50 for inactive cell phones, and so is collecting those at various locations.

Menzies, meanwhile, is pursing a degree in early childhood education.

“I feel it’s something I can do even though I’m disabled,” she said.

She said she’s grateful her mind is intact, and that she can still think for herself. She doesn’t remember the accident or anything else that happened a week and a half afterward. But she remembered she wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

“There are a lot of ‘ifs,’ but I can’t think about that,” Menzies said. “There’s no reason to live your life being mad and upset about what’s happened. What’s done is done, and you have to move on.”


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