Ben­e­fit to raise money for for­mer wrestler’s stem cell ther­apy

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - SAN­DRA BRANDS sbrands@cov­

It’s the lit­tle things that are taken for granted—like pick­ing up a fork or scratch­ing a nose.

Now, it might be pos­si­ble for Tyler Head, left a quad­ri­plegic af­ter a wrestling ac­ci­dent, to take those sim­ple ac­tions for granted again.

Not any time soon, but some­day.

Tyler, 19, and his mother, De­bra Head, of Cov­ing­ton, are set to fly to Lucerne, Swit- zer­land, for stem cell ther­apy, a pro­ce­dure that is not FDA ap­proved but has had great suc­cess in pa­tients with spinal in­juries.

The cost of the trip and the pro­ce­dure, De­bra es­ti­mates, will be $25,000.

On July 25, a Texas Hold ‘Em Tour­na­ment will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Celtic Tav­ern, 918 Com­mer­cial St., Olde Towne Cony­ers, to raise money to send Tyler and De­bra to Switzer­land in late Au­gust. The fundraiser fea­tures silent auc- tions, live mu­sic, face paint­ing and rub­ber duck rac­ing. The quilting group of Cross­roads United Methodist Church in Cony­ers has do­nated a quilt and Cowan Ace Hard­ware has do­nated a Yeti cooler, which will both be raf­fled.

De­bra said Celtic Tav­ern will be do­nat­ing a por­tion of the food and drink sales to the fund, and other Olde Towne Cony­ers busi­nesses will be stay­ing open late for the oc­ca­sion.

To say the fam­ily is over­whelmed by the gen­eros­ity of the com­mu­nity is an un­der­state­ment.

“I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate all the help the com­mu­nity has given,” Tyler said. “When peo­ple help you, you want to help back.”

Tyler’s par­ents share his feel­ings.

“Our whole lives changed,” De­bra said. “It made us ap­pre­ci­ate things in a whole dif­fer­ent way. We’d taken so much for granted. I couldn’t work ... Our church, Cross­roads UMC in

Cony­ers, was so sup­port­ive. We’d get gas cards in the mail from mem­bers ...”

“And peo­ple we didn’t know in the com­mu­nity, sent us gifts,” said Archie Head, Tyler’s fa­ther.

Tyler, who was a ju­nior at New­ton High School at the time, was in­jured dur­ing a wrestling match against Rock­dale High School on Dec. 29, 2012. At first, De­bra said, it looked in­no­cent enough, like “he’d fallen back and knocked the wind out of him­self, un­til I saw he couldn’t get up.”

He’d sus­tained two bro­ken ver­te­brae, C-5 and C-6, los­ing all feel­ing and move­ment from his neck down. Treated first at At­lanta Med­i­cal, he was re­leased to Shep­herd’s Cen­ter for Spinal Cord and Brain In­jury Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. He spent twoand-a-half months there, with De­bra driv­ing down­town ev­ery day.

Dur­ing that time, De­bra said, her main con­cern was Archie.

“He worked nights and I was wor­ried he’d only eat fast foods,” she said. “When peo­ple from the church asked how they could help, I told them about my wor­ries. They do­nated meals .”

“I’d come out [to the front porch] and there would be more food then I could eat in a week,” Archie said.

By the time Tyler was able to come home, com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Ro­tary and oth­ers had helped made the Head’s tract house ac­ces­si­ble—widen­ing door- ways and a shower, in­stalling ramps, and con­vert­ing two bed­rooms into one.

De­spite the chal­lenges, Tyler has worked hard over the last two-and-ahalf years. Not only has he strength­ened mus­cles and gained move­ment in his arms, he’s learned to drive and man­aged to grad­u­ate on time with his class.

He’s just about fin­ished with his gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion cred­its at Ge­or­gia Perime­ter Col­lege, and hopes to go on to the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia to ma­jor in broad­cast jour­nal­ism.

But first, he is sched­uled for stem cell ther­apy in Lucerne on Aug. 27.

The fam­ily first learned about Cell­s4Health (http:// www.cell­ in Lucerne through a net­work of sup­port­ers who have fam­ily mem­bers deal­ing with the same in­juries. The ther­apy uses Tyler’s own stem cells, har­vested from bone mar­row in his hip and in­jected into his lum­bar re­gion.

“The stem cells help re- gen­er­ate dam­aged nerves,” Tyler said. “[It] is a neu­tral cell that can the­o­ret­i­cally be plugged in any­where in the body and neigh­bor­ing cells re­shape it.”

And while the doc­tors won’t guar­an­tee an out­come, De­bra said Cell­s4Life clinic “has been do­ing it suc­cess­fully for eight years, with over 500 spinal cord in­juries.”

“I’m not re­ally ap­proach­ing this with any set goal,” Tyler said. “I’ll take what­ever it can give me. It could give me a lit­tle, it could give me a lot.”

“We did re­search other types of treat­ments,” said his mother. “Oth­ers were em­bry­onic and there’s a chance of rejection with a lot of risk. He’s said, ‘if I don’t’ go, it won’t work’.”

The out­pa­tient pro­ce­dure isn’t as daunt­ing as the flight, both De­bra and Tyler said. Nei­ther has been on a plane be­fore, and say the air­line has been noth­ing but sup­port­ive, show­ing them how they will help Tyler board and de­plane.

Tyler and De­bra will leave Aug. 24, ar­riv­ing in Zurich on Aug. 25. The clinic is mak­ing ar­range­ments for Tyler to be trans­ported to Lucerne.

“His first ap­point­ment is Aug. 26,” De­bra said. “On Aug. 27, the pro­ce­dure will be done. We’ll stay at the ho­tel and they’ll send some­one from the clinic to check on him.”

The Heads will re­turn to the States on Aug. 31.

“It’s a no brainer,” De­bra said. “We’ve got to do it.”

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