By David Ebner, Staff Writer
As they stormed Omaha Beach in Normandy and scurried across the decks of destroyers and aircraft carriers, they weren’t thinking about their health. When they enlisted, they weren’t looking for a job; they were answering a call. Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are holidays designed to remember the men and women of the armed service that answered this call and gave their lives in its name. These sacrifices are well-known among military families. The hope is that these veterans, who made such great sacrifices, receive a high level of care when they return home. However, many are seeing their health decline faster than their medical care can keep up. Some of the most prominent health conditions affecting veterans are lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and interstitial lung disease.
A recent study conducted by the Veterans Administration (VA) found that the prevalence of COPD among veterans is higher than the general population. Some younger veterans, those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, were regularly subjected to air pollution from burn pits, exploded IEDs and aeroallergens found in the desert region. More seasoned veterans, like those that served during Vietnam, faced chemical pollutants like Agent Orange that have contributed to their declining lung function. Given the limited resources available to veterans, many have elected to receive alternative treatment options outside of their VA coverage for their lung disease.
Don’t these men and women, the ones that have offered their lives and their futures for the protection of all Americans, deserve more? Don’t they deserve options, answers and a treatment that might help them get back to the life they want? The answer is an emphatic yes, and some veterans have found that these options may lie in a new elective treatment in the form of stem cell therapy for lung disease.
Stem cells have become a buzzword in the news over the past few years. However, much of the talk is about fetal stem cells. Few people are talking about adult, autologous stem cells that are present in all of our bodies. Functioning as our body’s repair system, these cells live in blood, bone marrow and fat tissue. They naturally respond to injury or illness; however, stem cells don’t move quickly, hence our bodies don’t instantly heal when we get sick. Autologous stem cell therapy can expedite this natural healing process.
A clinic operating in the United States offers such a treatment. The Lung Institute (lunginstitute.com) claims to have performed over 800 treatments since their inception two years ago. Their physicians extract stem cells through a minimally invasive procedure, isolate them and then reintroduce them to the lungs after giving the patient natural growth factors that promote cell replication. This quickens healing by directing the cells—and their healing properties—toward the diseased area. The result is healthier tissue growing in place of damaged tissue, and although this doesn’t cure the disease, it slows further degeneration and brings a normal life back within reach.
When I think of veterans, I’m reminded of my grandpa, a U.S. Navy veteran of WWII and the Korean War. As is the same with most veterans, failure was not a term he was acquainted with. However, teamwork was in his daily vocabulary because that is how they operated under fire. Help does not mean that you have failed; it means that you’re not alone. Help is exactly what veterans deserve whether they would admit it or not. Just like my grandfather who served because he felt it was his duty, I feel it is my duty to serve veterans when they come home. We can help by providing solutions to their problems, and for those struggling to breathe because of their chronic lung disease, stem cells may be the answer.
If you or a loved one suffers from a chronic lung disease, the specialists at the Lung Institute may be able to help. You can contact the Lung Institute at (855) 914-3212 or visit lunginstitute.com/health to find out if these new treatments are right for you.