Using 'pixie dust' to help soldiers heal

SAN ANTONIO, TX When Sgt. Shilo Harris met President Bush, he insisted on saluting, even though he's missing three fingers. Maybe next time, he'll have more.

His story starts in Baghdad, where his unit was hit by an IED. He lost his nose, ears, fingers and the upper third of his body to burns.

"I remember crying a lot," said Shilo. "The pain was really, really out there."

His wife, Kathreyn, and his four children have been beside him as he progressed through skin grafts and rehab.

"Little milestones, like feeding himself again. It was like I was getting part of my husband back," she said.

Now, Shilo may actually get part of his body back. Doctors at Brooke Army Medical Center are trying to regenerate one of his fingers.

"This would be just one more step to science fiction coming true," said Shilo.

Last month, doctors spread a clumpy white powder nicknamed 'pixie dust' where he's missing an index finger.

"I asked them afterward, 'What do you expect?'" said Shilo. "And they said 'You're the first, so we'll see.' I went, 'Wow, OK.'"

Four weeks later, Shilo showed me the new growth that looks like a pink bump.

"Now he has more finger than he had before already, and so we're just going to keep putting it on and keep going and see what happens," said Dr. Steven Wolf, who is testing the 'pixie dust.'

The powder is from a pig bladder. Doctors believe it can attract his natural stem cells and trick them into regenerating the finger. Doctors here have asked four or five other patients to see if they want 'pixie dust' to regenerate their fingers. They're considering it. Doctors want to try it on 10 people to see how it really works.

"It's kind of a neat thing to see and know that he's making medical history," said Kathreyn.

"It's phenomenal, wonderful," added Shilo. "I'll be the first. No big deal. It's got to start somewhere. This may be small right now, but maybe someday someone will lose an arm and they'll grow their arm back. That means a lot."

Shilo admits it is disconcerting not to have any idea what the new finger will be like. But if it works, Shilo says what doctors learn from him could make life easier for thousands of other wounded soldiers and eventually civilian amputees.

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