MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A woman’s medical nightmare and struggle with her vision ended with the unconventional treatment of liposuction.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t enjoy my life,” said optic neuritis patient Julia Matsumoto.
Matsumoto couldn’t believe a treatment to save her vision was nearly killing her and the whole journey started with a common symptom.
“I was 31-years old and I had a severe headache,” said Matsumoto.
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That was just the beginning suddenly her world, as she put it, “Would just get darker and darker.”
Her Ophthalmologist Dr. Larry Geisse said Matsumoto had optic neuritis.
“For some reason her body is attacking itself…and causing inflammation and damaging the nerve,” said Geisse.
It usually responds well to steroids like prednisone.
“That could control it. There’s no question,” said Geisse.
Matsumoto could see again, but the dosage she needed, which was 100 milligrams a day, triggered devastating side effects.
“I gained over 100 pounds within three months,” said Matsumoto.
The stretch marks on her arms were nothing compared to the organ and joint damage going on inside. The side effects were so severe even her doctor wondered.
“Is it better sometimes to in this case let a person go blind or do you kill them with the steroids,” asked Geisse.
So she accepted losing her vision.
“I told my daughter I would always remember her. The way she looked,” said Matsumoto.
Doctor Geisse wasn’t giving up and continued to look for answers. He learned that a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon was investigating stem cell therapy as an alternative to medication.
“I said I don’t have anything else to lose,” said Matsumoto.
“As a cosmetic surgeon I’ve been harvesting fat to throw it out because people want to get rid of it. Now I tell people who come to me for liposuction. Don’t be so quick,” said Dr.Mark Berman of the California Stem Cell Treatment Center.
“Your fat is loaded with stem cells,” said Dr. Berman.
Matsumoto was able to get her first treatment in November 2011 which began with liposuction to her belly. Next, the stem cells were separated from the fat and the blood then those concentrated *healing* cells were infused back into her system intravenously.
“ We saw her like three or four days after the procedure and I’m telling you it was just miraculous how much better her vision was,” said Geisse. “We’ve successfully got her off the steroids completely and that just in itself has been a miracle.”
Matsumoto says it’s wonderful to feel like a normal mother once again.
“I am forever grateful,” said Matsumoto. ”It’s given me a new life.”
It is unclear what causes Optic neuritis. To keep her vision Julia needs to repeat treatments every two months.
Stem cell therapies are experimental and not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
They’re also expensive.
Matsumoto lost her job and health insurance, so during her journey both doctors are treating her for free.