A chance in China

Thursday, April 21, 2005
Jim Trickey looks out into his backyard in Cape Girardeau, Tuesday, April19, 2005. Trickery has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrigs disease and was first diagnosed in 2002. He is going to China for a stem cell implant in hopes that it will help in curing the disease.

Sitting outside his garage in a lawn chair, watching his daughters ride bicycles in the driveway on Monday afternoon, Jim Trickey talks about his pending surgery in China without any outward signs of apprehension.

His wife, Brandy, is a little more nervous. She's worried about leaving behind their three children -- they've never been away from the children for more than five days. So she typed a four-page list of instructions for their caregivers and intends to e-mail every day.

The couple will leave on Saturday for China, where they will spend three weeks as they await a date for a surgical procedure in which doctors will implant cells into Jim's brain. After the surgery, Brandy Trickey will return to Cape Girardeau and Jim Trickey's mother, Karen Mogelnicki, will be in China during her son's recovery.

Jim Trickey suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. He was first diagnosed in 2002.

Since then, he's taken medication -- but only one is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for ALS treatment, and it's not always effective -- and spent hours in physical therapy.

The surgical implants are his next hope. The surgery isn't performed in the United States on humans, though scientific trials are being conducted on animals. But the procedure has been performed numerous times in China on patients with ALS and spinal cord injuries. During the surgery under a local anesthetic, a doctor will implant up to 4 million cells into two incisions in Jim Trickey's frontal lobe. The cells, collected from the olfactory bulbs in aborted fetuses, are at such a stage they can be used to regenerate damaged nerves.

Doctors hope the cells will help Jim Trickey gain more mobility.

Jim Trickey doesn't know exactly what to expect from the surgery. He knows some people see great results and others show no change.

But he knows there's nothing left to lose. The surgery isn't a cure, but then nothing is.

Since his diagnosis, Jim Trickey has had to quit his job and stopped driving about two months ago. He has to have help getting dressed and eating. Through the Internet, he's talked with others about the surgery, visited Web sites and done the research.

But the best advice he's received has come from David Landewee, a Cape Girardeau native and son of Irvin Landewee, a former Southeast Missourian employee. David Landewee went to China for the surgery in late February.

"It's been more in terms of the practical, knowing firsthand from him," Jim Trickey said.

Some of the advice has been to bring your own drinking glass, and toilet paper, as well as plenty to watch on the DVD player -- only one TV channel is broadcast in English at the hospital and it's 24 hours of news. But the Trickeys also are bringing their own utensils. Jim needs bigger spoons and handles to grasp when he's eating.

They'll stay in the foreign ward and have a chance to speak to others from around the world who are preparing for or recovering from surgery.

In the week or so after his arrival, Jim Trickey expects to undergo several medical tests. He's bringing his medical files and recent MRI scans for the doctors to see.

He won't be able to leave the hospital prior to his surgery, but his wife will be able to shop and sightsee some. After the procedure, Jim Trickey can leave the hospital.

But it's going to be a long month in a place far from home. During that time, Jim Trickey will miss daughter Greta's preschool graduation, a brother's birthday, son Gage's birthday, a grandmother's birthday and Mother's Day.

But it's not about what he will miss during that time but what he might gain that keeps him focused.

In the last six months, he's noticed that his muscles are weakening and he has more muscle spasms that keep him awake at night. Since December, the Trickeys had a wheelchair ramp installed, the doors widened in their home and a new wheelchair-accessible bathroom installed. Volunteers -- family and friends -- helped get that work done.

"It was like one of those home makeover shows," Jim Trickey said. Although he doesn't use a wheelchair now, Trickey knows the day is coming and wanted to be prepared in advance.

Brandy Trickey said that without the help of the community, friends, family and neighbors, they wouldn't be able to make this trip to China. Many of the expenses have been paid for by fund-raising events. Family and friends are taking turns keeping watch over the children, and her employer, Montgomery Bank, has given "overwhelming support," she said. The bank and Muscular Dystrophy Association are planning a charity golf tournament June 3 in Jim Trickey's honor.

"I had been so apprehensive for so long about doing this and spending this much money but I've come to terms with it," Brandy Trickey said. "And if it gives him one week or one month of independence and mobility, it's worth it. Time is of the essence."

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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