Stem Cell Treatment & High Mileage Expeditions

“What is it like transitioning from a multi-year expedition back to regular life?”

This has been a frequent question since completion of my thirteen-year circumnavigation, and I usually talk about the psychological implications of coming home: of reintegrating back into society, of refocusing from the primary motivation of making miles west, and reacquainting myself with family and old friends.

Pedal boat Moksha powered by adventurer Jason Lewis heading out in the Atlantic wilderness on the Expedition 360 human-powered circumnavigation

But another, perhaps more obvious, effect of long-haul travel is one of physical wear and tear. A few years ago I started experiencing severe pain in my right knee, affecting my ability to remain active. Even going for short hikes triggered inflammation. An x-ray revealed worn cartilage to be the issue, but only after my entire body was examined by a chiropractor did the root cause come to light: my left leg was three quarters of an inch shorter than the right, upshot of being hit by a car while crossing North America on rollerblades in 1995. Left undiagnosed for years, the anomaly in length had knocked my pelvis out of alignment and caused the cartilage in my right knee to wear unduly. I would need an artificial knee in five to ten years, according to the docs, way too early for someone in their mid-forties.

The case for stem cell treatment - original compound fracture of adventurer Jason Lewis's left leg after being run over by a car in Colorado, leading for worn knee cartilage

Compound fracture to left leg. September 1995

Then I heard about stem cell treatment. Stem cells are cells in the human body capable of self-renewal and differentiation; in other words, that can morph themselves into specialized cells, such as cartilage, and multiply to produce more cells of the same. Supplying the body the means to essentially heal itself sounded an immensely attractive alternative to major surgery, so when the opportunity for stem cell treatment came up in December of last year at the Premiere Stem Cell Institute in Johnstown, Colorado, I signed up. In this video clip, the surgeon, Doctor Pettine, draws around 80 millilitres of bone marrow from my iliac crest, spins it down in a centrifuge, and then re-injects the stem cell concentrate into the right knee joint. The whole process took less than 45 minutes and I was conscious throughout.

Six months on, my knee is almost pain-free, and I’ve been able to reclaim much of my former mobility. A week ago I took a 15-mile hike in the mountains, unthinkable a year ago, and the next morning, instead of being crippled, I felt no ill effects at all. So, if you’re one of those high mileage explorer-types or athletes with worn out hips and knees, or someone simply having to consider surgery because of advancing age, you might want to look into stem cell treatment. In a few years we’ll be seeing it used to treat a whole variety of conditions, from baldness to blindness to Alzheimer’s.

In other news, The Expedition trilogy recently won the Da Vinci Eye Award for best cover art – congratulations to Tammie from BillyFish Books for her insightful design idea. For those left hanging at the end of The Seed Buried Deep (I know, again, sorry), you’ll be put out of your misery November of this year when the third and final part of the series, To the Brink, is published. Thank you all for being so patient with what has become a marathon project much like the expedition itself. I sometimes wonder if the physical journey wasn’t just an exercise for the much more onerous task of writing about it.

Da Vinci Eye Award for best cover art by Tammie Stevens of BillyFish Books for The Expedition trilogy by adventurer Jason Lewis