Braden Heckendorn has overcome tremendous hurdles over the past few years. Thanks to advancements in modern medicine, the 11-year-old is active, with the ability to take on moderate tasks. But his journey getting here is nothing short of a miracle.
On Dec. 28, 2013, Braden Heckendorn's life changed forever.
"We got a phone call saying that they were doing CPR on Braden," Braden's father, Bruce Heckendorn, told Eyewitness News.
Braden was at a relative's house setting up target practice with a pellet gun. His father says the gun malfunctioned and a pellet went through Braden's armpit, and into his left ventricle.
"He was down for 22 minutes without a heartbeat," Bruce said.
He was revived, but 96 hours later he had a major stroke. While Braden fought through his injuries and survived, it was only the beginning.
"He couldn't see very well at all. He could only see light and dark. He was in a wheelchair. He couldn't talk, he couldn't walk," Braden's mother, Kristy, said.
There were some improvements over time, but Braden plateaued.
"Doctors really don't have a very good outlook on brain injuries, especially for children, and they say after a year, that's about what you're going to get," Kristy said.
After researching many options, Braden's parents came across the stem cell company Celltex.
"It was in January of 2017 when they went to Cancun and he got his first 600 million stem cells," Celtex CEO David Eller said
The process starts by collecting a small fat sample from the patient through an independent third party doctor. Celltex then reproduces the mesenchymal stem cells in their Houston-based laboratory.
"This never would have been done five years ago. Hopefully, in the near future we'll be able to get that done in the United States," Eller said.
According to the FDA's website, the only stem cell-based products that are approved for use in the U.S. consist of blood-forming stem cells derived from cord blood. In order to be within compliance, treatments cannot be administered here in the U.S. So the patient must travel to Mexico to receive the cells from the Celltex lab. In Braden's case, they noticed improvements right away.
"His hand was drawn and tight and he was using it to eat, and using it to help get himself dressed. We noticed within a week or two, his vision got better. His speech got better and he just looked brighter," Kristy said.
It's been roughly 18 months since those treatments. For a kid whose heart stopped for 22 minutes, wasn't able to talk and relied on a wheel chair, his future and outlook on life is completely different today, thanks to the alternative treatments he received.
A LIVING MIRACLE: Stem cell therapy help heal 11-year-old boy
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