Controversial Stem Cell Transplant Helps Hawaii Woman

By Jill Kuramoto
Published On: Jan 10 2012 11:58:25 PM HST
Updated On: Jan 11 2012 06:51:36 AM HST
HONOLULU -

About a year ago, KITV first told the story of a University of Hawaii associate professor diagnosed with three rare autoimmune diseases.

Cristy Kessler was living with pain every day and was, in her words, "preparing to die." But after undergoing experimental stem cell treatment overseas, she's now learning how to live.

Just a mere nine months ago, a walk down the block wasn't possible.

"The pain was so intense, I was on morphine and vicadin around the clock, everyday," said Kessler.

Although the 40-year-old didn't look sick, her body was basically attacking itself from three different autoimmune diseases: Scleroderma, Vasculitis, and Akylosing Spondylitis.

Stem cell transplant was an option to stop the diseases progress, but it's not yet approved by the FDA and not covered by insurance in the United States. Kessler finally found help overseas.

Dr. Zafer Gulbas of Anadolou Hospital in Istanbul, Turkey performed the stem cell transplant in March 2010. It was a grueling 2-month long procedure of blood tests, intense chemotherapy and isolation.

"Her disease was in the early phase of the scleroderma. Because of the transplantation, it helped her," said Gulbas.

Gulbas said treating the disease early ensures better success with stem cell transplant. Kessler still takes antibiotics and with an immune system like that of a newborn baby, she has to be extra careful not to get sick. But she's no longer on prescription pain medications.

Stem cell transplant is still considered experimental - it's long term effects not yet known. But for people like Kessler, it's given her a new life right now.

"I really want to enjoy the music and look like a fool dancing and sound terrible when I sing, but have fun doing it and not be in pain," said Kessler.

She is now preparing to go back to work full time in a couple of months.

"I got a second chance. I got a do-over and I need to make the best of it and I need to pay it forward," said Kessler.

Donations from friends and co-workers and a hefty loan helped pay for Kessler's stem cell procedure.

As her way to pay it forward, she arranged for the top four finalists from the popular culinary TV show "Master Chef, season 2" to be here on island this week. On Wednesday and Thursday, the chefs are cooking gourmet meals for the clients and volunteers of Family Promise Hawaii and Yo! House in Waikiki.

Jimmy Buffett's at the Beachcomber will be hosting all four chefs for dinner Thursday night as a way of saying thank you for the work these chefs are doing in the community.

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