Cape couple arrives in China for help with Gehrig's disease

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Since arriving in China on Sunday, Jim and Brandy Trickey have been getting accustomed to a new culture, a different medical system and unusual foods.

The couple left Cape Girardeau Friday for a flight the following morning to Bejing, China, where Jim is scheduled to have surgery to implant cells in hopes of helping him gain more mobility.

Trickey has Lou Gehrig's disease, and the surgical implants in his frontal lobe could help slow the progression of the disease. Nearly 4 million cells taken from olfactory bulbs in fetuses will be implanted in his brain. The cells are at such a stage of development that they are able to regenerate, and the new cells could help repair damage caused by the disease.

Brandy will send periodic e-mails back to family and friends who want to track his progress. Because of the disease's quick progression, Jim is unable to type and uses a voice recognition program at his home computer. In China, Brandy will handle most of the correspondence.

"Jim and I were so exhausted from the plane ride and both a little uneasy," she wrote in an e-mail sent to friends and family on Tuesday. "We went to bed, and the nurses kept coming in wanting us to eat. I told them no, but they insisted. When we did finally get up, it was Monday morning and immediately they were bringing us more food to eat."

Later Monday, Jim had medical tests in advance of his surgery. "At one time we had seven nurses in our room, and wouldn't you know it 'Mr. Personality' has hit it off with everyone here," Brandy wrote.

The Trickeys are staying in the "foreign ward" at the hospital, which Brandy said resembles the old Saint Francis building that stood for years on Good Hope Street. "But our wing is the best part of the hospital; it is clean but very outdated."

Surgery today

All the other patients in the ward are Lou Gehrig's disease patients, though people with spinal cord injuries have been treated there. There is no cure for ALS -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a muscular disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spine and eventually leads to paralysis. Trickey was diagnosed with the disease in 2002.

He is scheduled for the implant surgery today. "That is very quick, but there is a Chinese holiday coming up, and nobody works for a week," Brandy wrote.

The couple had expected to be in China for about four weeks -- two prior to surgery and two following, but now they will likely be able to leave earlier.

"We have also had a bit of good news. It is still a little early to be talking about this, but Jim was approached about coming back in six months and then again in a year," Brandy wrote. The doctors want to document his progress and would do a second surgery at no cost.

The procedure and trip cost about $25,000. Most of the money has been donated through community fund raisers and support.

"There is a lot to think about, but for now we are just concentrating on Wednesday's surgery," Brandy wrote.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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