Dan Muscat, a jeweler from St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, was diagnosed with systemic scleroderma in 2014. The disease progressed so rapidly that within days, just walking became extremely difficult, and within a year, he couldn’t bend his knees enough to drive, couldn’t turn his head, and was in excruciating pain. “On a scale of one to 10, my pain was about 15,” he says.
Doctors attempted immune suppressive treatment, the usual course of action for Dan’s form of scleroderma. When his condition failed to improve, Dan was told he had only months to live.
Dan had heard of a procedure being done at Northwestern University in which stem cells are harvested from a patient’s bone marrow to rebuild their immune system. Dr. Harry Atkins at Ottawa Hospital (Ontario, Canada) had performed a similar procedure for patients with multiple sclerosis. With Dr. Atkins’s help, Dan became the first scleroderma patient in Canada to receive a stem cell transplant.
The procedure is risky, because it involves first shutting down the patient’s immune system, and then rejuvenating it with the new cells. During the treatment, the patient is very vulnerable to infection. But with Dan’s grim prognosis, he was more than ready to take the chance.
After the procedure, Dan’s pain was dramatically reduced: “One or two percent compared to what it was before,” he reports. He is still recovering, and his doctors caution that stem cell transplantation is a treatment, not a cure. But Dan, who can walk and drive again, is optimistic. “I’ve been given a second chance.”