Controversial Stem Cell Treatment Attracts Thousands

On the top floor of the Xiaoshan Hospital, just beyond the bustle of Hangzhou, China, in a city Marco Polo once called "the finest and noblest in the world," a group of Americans are in search of a miracle.

Flying in from as far away as Tennessee and Pennsylvania, many of these Americans have traveled to China with disabilitating conditions such as spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy in hopes that Chinese businessman, Sean Hu, may hold the key to their recovery.

Hu and his company, Beike Biotech, believe they can offer these Americans what they can't get at home: the promise of stem cell therapy.

"Stem cells is going to be very big," Hu said. According to Hu, his group was one of the first to apply stem cells clinically.

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Using stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood (UCB), Hu said his company has treated over 2,000 patients since 2005. They claim an 85 percent rate of improvement in a variety of conditions, from spinal cord injuries to autism.

Seemingly impressive results are posted online by either Beike or former patients, such as a young boy who suffered seizures from cerebral palsy, and who suddenly became relaxed. Or a young girl named Rylea Barlett from Missouri, born legally blind, who is now apparently able to see.

The abundance of alleged success stories online led to an influx of Americans, many coming to China for the first time, in search of a cure.

Including Paul Flynn, a 43-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo. whose son came across Beike's Web site while researching a project for school.

Flynn had never been to China — he didn't even have a passport.

"The longest trip I've even took was probably three hours," he said.

'Like Being Drunk All the Time'

Flynn has Ataxia, a genetic disease that causes progressive deterioration of motor skills, vision and speech. Once hands-on and active in his prime, Flynn now struggles to navigate his own home.

"It's like being drunk all the time," he said. "It starts out with a six-pack and then you get a 12-pack, and it just gets worse. You can't walk with a cane, because you don't know which way you're going to fall."

Flynn's symptoms began seven years ago. His two sons, Michael and Matthew, have both grown up watching their father's condition worsen.

"Hard to believe how it takes effect like that," said Michael. "I remember when he used to do a whole bunch of stuff, help around the house, work on stuff, and now, it's just getting harder and harder for him to do some of that stuff."

Matthew added, "The most that's affected with us is doing things in public, because it gets difficult, because the American community is ignorant, and they'll see someone stumbling, and they'll just think they're drunk."

It's never been lost on the sons that they, too, might someday develop the crippling disease that runs in Flynn's family.

It confined Flynn's mother to a wheelchair, and eventually affected his sister. Both died from the complications.

Now, Flynn's brother Bob is in a wheelchair. For Flynn, time is running out. Ataxia has no known cure.

When asked whether he wonders "Why me?" Flynn choked up.

"Well, not all the time, but you know, like, why do I have to hang out inside the truck. Things like that, you know? And I like to walk down to the creek, you know, and do some fishing, but I can't get down the damn hill … to go fishing. You know, things like that. Gotta deal with what the cards deal you with."

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