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Press Release

October 22, 2009


Published on Aspen Daily News Online

Finding Balance of Acceptance and Hope is New Goal in Paraplegic’s Journey


Catherine Lutz


Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

It’s been over two years since local paraplegic Amanda Boxtel first went to India to try a groundbreaking human embryonic stem cell treatment that’s forbidden in the United States. The treatment, which began to give life to legs that had been dormant for 15 years, set Boxtel’s life in a new direction, she said at the time.

But lately, things have changed. Having launched a Web site and blog, signed deals for an autobiographical book and documentary film and continuing a pre-stem cell treatment regimen of intense physical therapy, “the time has come for me to try and consider alternative healing modalities.”

During Boxtel’s last trip to India, in April, she had to stay nearly an extra three weeks when a standard spinal procedure went awry. An accidental puncture in her lumbar led to a three-week spinal headache during which she barely left her hospital bed. It was her fifth trip to India and she was Dr. Geeta Shroff’s oldest-injury patient.

“I feel like I’ve shown a little bit of improvement, but I feel I’ve plateaued to an extent,” Boxtel said recently. “Meaning there’s 17 years of scar tissue built up to work with and the stem cells have to try and disintegrate that.”

Boxtel hasn’t given up on embryonic stem cell therapy — she’s looking to do one more treatment but her doctor has recommended that she wait a year to 18 months to go back.

“It takes time for stem cells to gestate; you can see improvements anywhere from now to five years down the track,” she explained.

Meanwhile, Boxtel has plenty to keep her busy. She continues a physical therapy regimen at home and at the Aspen Club and Spa, where she’s also walking on an anti-gravity treadmill — “It’s the only time my legs absolutely buzz with currents and tingles; it’s the closest thing to normalcy I’ve felt in 17 years,” she said.

And she’s working on her documentary film, which follows her life story with the common thread of never giving up on pursuing the best quality of life possible.

“And that’s what I’ve realized in this journey, is that acceptance and hope must co-exist,” Boxtel said. “It’s been a revelation. I accept where I am right now and that frees me to hope where I can be.”

Boxtel’s revelation enabled her to think about exploring alternative healing modalities, even ones that haven’t been patent approved. So when Dr. Mark Chariff, a Florida-based chiropractic physician, contacted her out of the blue after finding her story online, she was open to his idea.

Chariff, who has been using lasers therapeutically since the 1980s, pioneered a three-wavelength, low-level laser for tissue regeneration and pain mitigation. Awaiting a U.S. patent, Chariff has done two clinical trials with the laser and used it on about 500 patients so far, “getting results which were blowing my mind,” he said.

The first revelation for Chariff came in August 2008, when a colleague asked him if he could do something for a man who had been shot in the neck during a drive-by shooting, and was paralyzed from the clavicle down. The man was in severe pain, taking six Percocet a day among other treatments.

Ten days into Chariff’s laser treatment, the man went completely off his pain medication. But a stranger thing happened, too — he started moving his left thumb.

“I started thinking, there’s something to this,” said Chariff. He did a video documentary of the man’s progress, who is now pain free, can feed himself and extend his legs on command.

When Chariff came across Boxtel’s blog, “I thought she was a very compelling figure,” he said, and decided to e-mail her to tell her what he was doing, not necessarily with the thought to treat her.

She was immediately interested in the treatment, and he invited her to Miami to try it. But the cost would have been prohibitive for two weeks of treatment, which was what he advised, so Boxtel put together a different plan. Galvanizing her local support network, she arranged for a round-trip plane ticket for Dr. Chariff, a condo for him to stay in Snowmass Village and the use of both the WIN Institute and a private home, also in Snowmass, for treatments.

By bringing Chariff to the Roaring Fork Valley, about a dozen locals with spinal cord-related injuries or pain have been able to avail themselves of the triple-wavelength laser therapy. These include Leah Potts, a quadriplegic who has also done some embryonic stem cell therapy; Richard Shenk, a paraplegic who was severely injured in a plane crash in Kentucky in 2008; Thomas Hayles, who fractured his neck in a cycling accident; Denis Murray and David Farrell.

Chariff said he’s seen results in the local patients he’s treated, results he did not expect.

For Boxtel, the treatment has been, in her words, “experimental.”

She’s experienced muscle flutters in her gluteal and leg. “When I put my hand on my muscles I’ve felt them contracting and pulsing. It’s as though it’s triggered something; he’s given me a massive dose of energy.”

The muscle twitching that’s never been there before, said Chariff, means something is being stimulated, that Boxtel still has an intact nerve supply, which is a good sign.

“And it’s a pretty good diagnostic tool instead of pricking someone with a pin,” he added. “It gives you an indication of what’s stimulated, where you can go toward recovery.”

Chariff left Boxtel with one laser to use on herself, as well as the thought toward doing more alternative therapy. Her next project, she said, is trying a four-wheel bicycle-type machine with no pedals called the Glidecycle, which allows the patient to walk but with the help of momentum, so only trace muscle power is needed to move it.

“I’m looking at how to create new neuropathic pathways from my brain to teach myself to walk again,” said Boxtel, adding that she wants to go to Machu Picchu, and soon.

But even a muscle flutter, she explains, is exciting at this point, after 15 years of nothing. So it continues, literally step by step, and with the right balance of acceptance and hope. And a little bit of dreaming.

“That would be the most beautiful thing, to feel the earth beneath my feet again or climb a mountain, to run on the beach, dance heart to heart,” said Boxtel. “To be realistic in my lifetime I’m not sure, but I will hold on to the dream and work toward it. I’m not prepared to sit on the couch and say, ‘woe is me’ and give in. My hope rests in quality of life. Whether I walk or not — that’s the ultimate — but if I can live in this body and feel great in it and continue to smile, that’s what I want.”


Photo Credit with Byline:

Heather Rousseau/Aspen Daily News

Photo Caption:

Amanda Boxtel has laser therapy done by Dr. Mark Chariff in pursuit of restoring life to her limbs. The tri-wave cascade laser is a therapeutic device with three wavelengths, two of which are infrared. Chariff is in the process of getting his invention patented and is treating 10 patients in the valley at the WIN Health Institute. “When he uses the laser on me I feel connected to my lower body, my limbs are a part of me and they are alive,” Boxtel said.

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