Tony Dorsett, the legendary Dallas Cowboys running back, was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. Dorsett has chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease that has been linked to dementia, depression, and to suicides of NFL players.
In 2013, Tony Dorsett, the Heisman Trophy winner, as well as College and Pro Football Hall of Famer who played 12 NFL seasons, was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) a brain disease linked to football head trauma.
After learning about Tony’s recent memory problems, one of Dorsett’s former college football coaches, Jackie Sherrill, asked the NFL star to consider alternative medicine that might give both of them better lives after having played football for over a decade.
Sherrill, 71, invited Dorsett to try controversial stem cell treatments that are illegal in the United States. Tony considered his options and decided to go forward with his former coach’s suggestion. Both men received stem cell treatments in Mexico last year and are planning to receive additional treatments in the near future.
Tony Dorsett briefly commented about his progress when he spoke with USA Today Sports.
“When I was taking the stem cells, I was able to figure things out a little better and not get as frustrated.”
The stem cells were extracted from Dorsett’s and Sherrill’s stomach fat in Texas, before a Houston company, Celltex, cultured and multiplied them with the help of a serum derived from cattle. In Cancun, Mexico, the cells were then purified and injected back into both men, about 200 million at a time.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the stem cell treatment Tony Dorsett and Jackie Sherrill received is a biological drug because the cells were engineered beyond what nature intended for them. Therefore, the FDA considers the treatment illegal.
In 2012, the FDA intervened against Celltex shutting down the treatments in the U.S. unless the company could prove their effectiveness and safety following years of expensive clinical trials.
In order to get around the FDA’s intervention, Celltex now ships the cells to Mexico, where several former football players have received these treatments.
A number of other aging sports Hall of Famers; including NFL quarterback Bart Starr and hockey star Gordie Howe, are also trying various kinds of therapies in foreign countries, believing they have run out of options in the United States.
Tony Dorsett explained his frustration concerning his memory loss to USA Today Sports.
“I’m determined to beat this, but it can be very frustrating at times, very frustrating to try to find places that I’ve been going to since I’ve been in the Dallas metroplex area. All of a sudden, you don’t know how to get there, and you’ve got to ask, ‘How do I get there?’ Thank God for GPS.”
With all the talk about to potential of stem cell treatments, people need to be aware of the fact that the science behind it is still very young. There are increased risks for patients and companies trying to profit from them.
According to R. Alta Charo, professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, people should seriously take into consideration injecting foreign and unproven material into their bodies and, “should understand they are taking a shot in the dark. There is nothing proven about what these guys are doing.”
Nevertheless, shortly after receiving stem cell treatments in Mexico last year, Sherrill noticed strange things happening to his body. Normally, when Jackie worked outdoors near his home in Texas, he would suffer minor cuts that wouldn’t heal for at least a few weeks. That changed after receiving the stem cell treatment in Cancun.
Sherrill shared his promising discovery.
“They were healing in two or three days, completely. That got my attention.”
However, Tony Dorsett’s initial benefit from receiving the stem cell treatment did not last very long. Tony said, the effect has faded, though Celltex CEO David Eller thinks the reason might be that he needs injections that are more regular.
The stem cell treatments cost $4,000 or more, depending on the condition. The one-time fee for the initial extraction and storage is $6,500.
Dorsett offered his thoughts concerning the long-term effects of the stem cell treatments.
“I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing or what it is, but it didn’t have the staying power. I felt good, but then, you know, it was gone. But I guess you’ve got to get so many million, zillion, trillion of your stem cells back in your body, and you do it over a period of time.”
Tony Dorsett and many other sports veterans want to leave no stone unturned in seeking a better quality of life. Besides spending $10,000 or more, they don’t see a great deal of risk in trying stem cell treatments or anything else like it.
Tony Dorsett shares his optimism about getting well.
“As far as seeing what I could do to slow this down, stop it, burst it, whatever, stem cells come from your own body, my own body. It should work, but we’ll see.”
If the meantime, Tony’s appeal to fans is to, “Say a little prayer for me.”
[Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images]