Alternative Treatments

How Stem Cells are Offering Patients Better Quality of LIfe

Photography by Kelly Ann Shuler

Lehigh native Vicki Coyle had been suffering with significant knee pain from a basketball injury that occurred nearly 30 years earlier. To make matters worse, arthritis had set in, making her daily routines difficult and her nightly walks almost impossible. Having witnessed other family members undergo knee replacement, Coyle worried that she would be facing the same.

Vicki Coyle

Enter Ranjan Sachdev, M.D. of Sachdev Orthopaedics who offered Coyle another option. After injections had failed to relieve Coyle of her knee pain, Sachdev gave Coyle an ultimatum – knee replacement or stem-cell treatment. Coyle chose stem-cell treatment over invasive knee replacement surgery, a decision that has given Coyle her life back.

Looking back, Coyle remembers undergoing the procedure, “It was a positive experience. If I needed to, I would do it again.”

A day after the procedure, Coyle could walk with minimal discomfort. Within six weeks, Coyle was back to enjoying long walks with her dog. By the summer, she was rigorously cycling 150 miles with her husband on vacation in Michigan. “I never would have attempted that kind of activity with my knee before the stem-cell [treatment],” says Coyle.

Citing the long absence from work and the risk associated with an invasive surgery, Coyle is happy with the choice she made. “I have a job where I am driving and traveling and in an office. I would have missed six weeks of work,” she says.

As far as cost is concerned, Coyle is content with her decision to pay out-of-pocket since the procedure is not covered by insurance companies. “I would have spent this much, if not more, for my co-pays for physical therapy,” she concludes.

It’s worth mentioning that with the stem-cell treatment, Coyle did not require physical therapy or further treatments. Coyle sums up her experience with the stem-cell treatment with advice to others weighing their options. “It’s a no-brainer, to me…it’s an option that clearly should be considered if you’re looking at a knee replacement.”

Stem Cells

Advancements in stem-cell research are paving the way for less-invasive medical treatments. Athletes with knee and shoulder injuries have been treated with stem cells for some time, although they are just now becoming the standard for everyday orthopedic injuries.

Despite the stigma surrounding stem cells, it’s important to note that these cells are not coming from another host, and they are not coming from embryos. The cells used in treating orthopedic injuries are collected from the patient’s own body. Known as Mesenchymal stem cells, these cells are exceptional at repairing damage caused by disease or injury to tendon, bone and cartilage.

A little over two years ago, a friend of Sachdev’s had their arthritic knee treated with stem cells. It was then that Sachdev began researching, reading literature and exploring procedures that could give his patients the same relief from chronic ailments.

“The results, in general, have been very encouraging,” he says.

With advancements being made every day, Sachdev insists on being up-to-date with the latest information in the field.

“They’re coming out with a product, which allows stem cells to be coated on it and applied for cartilage regrowth,” he continues. “It’s like a mesh that you can put stem cells into.” Although the product Sachdev is referring to is not yet available in the United States, it shows the promise and potential in stem-cell research.

The Procedure

Stem-cell treatment requires only sedation, making it a great alternative for people with serious health ailments who cannot go under the knife. However, there are people who might not be right for stem-cell treatments, including individuals using chemotherapy drugs or blood thinners.

To begin, Sachdev withdraws two 60-cubic-centimeter samples from the patient’s bone marrow, where stem cells are located. From this, 5 to 6 cubic centimeters are concentrated stem cells. After the stem cells have been harvested, Sachdev injects them into the impaired tissue where they will begin to repair damage.

While most see dramatic improvements with stem-cell treatments, the results can vary because there is no way, yet, to guide the stem cells to specific areas that need repaired. Certainly, this will improve as technology advances.
For those still skeptical, Sachdev offers, “If it was my knee, this would be my first choice before I look at a knee replacement.”

When the damage is severe, and a knee replacement is required, stem-cell treatments do not negate the option of knee replacement or make the procedure more arduous.

For Chandra Kanapathy, sleep had become impossible due to a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Since stem-cell treatment was not available at the time, Kanapathy had to undergo a two-hour surgery with an additional seven months of physical therapy and slow healing. Conventional methods left Kanapathy with little improvement until almost a year later when he began to feel some relief.

So, when his left rotator cuff had a similar tear from compensating for his bum right shoulder, he inquired about stem-cell treatments and their capabilities. Kanapathy, an engineer, explains, “It’s natural physics.”

Kanapathy details his thought-process in choosing stem-cell treatments over another invasive, painful surgery, “I think the bottom line is, ‘What kind of quality of life do I want to maintain?’”
Just one week after the procedure, Kanapathy says he could sleep comfortably in his bed. He compares the two operations, the shoulders, “They’re a day and night difference,” he says.
While he did choose to attend physical therapy, Kanapathy says that, within two months of the surgery, he was back to his normal routines. He maintains that the money he spent on his right shoulder surgery amounted to much more than the stem-cell treatment when therapy, co-pays, time and additional costs were totaled.

To that end, Kanapathy wishes that stem-cell treatments would have been an option when his right shoulder required the surgery.

“I would absolutely, positively recommend stem cells,” he says. “The reason is, the surgery time is shorter. The second is I am a conventional guy – the less knife you use, the better. And the variables – anything can go wrong.”

Sachdev cites research from a French physician who treated half of his patients with surgery and the other half with stem cells. “This is not isolated success,” he says explaining the doctor’s results, which indicated that only 67 percent of the people who had the surgery, healed; compared to the stem-cell group, where 100 percent of those treated healed.  The study also indicated that patients treated with stem cells fared better long-term. A staggering 87 percent of those treated with stem cells remained intact. That’s an unprecedented success rate for any medical procedure.

Stem-cell treatments are the future of medicine and are accessible right now. Sachdev has been healing his patients in the Lehigh Valley with these medical marvels for a little more than two years, and they are already changing lives for the better. For those fearing the cost, Sachdev and his team offer affordable payment plans.

To find out more about Sachdev and stem-cell treatments, visit