Stem cells give life to the arm of Bartolo Colon

SANTIAGO. The fact that baseball players are the most recognizable product of Dominican manufacturing is nothing new. The fact that from now on they will be used to show and promote the advances reached by Dominican doctors is a great possibility.

In back of the surprising comeback of Bartolo Colon to the most demanding level of baseball (besides its athletic conditions) is the credit that goes to a team of surgeons made in Santiago de los Caballeros with the most advanced knowledge of present day medicine.

The successful recoveries from surgical procedures of athletes such as Alex Rodriguez and Tiger Woods, generated the interest for doctors Sergio Guzman and Leonel Liriano to go into the field of sports medicine.

Their decades of experience were reinforced with training in the United States and it was necessary to carry out a test on a veteran athlete, whose recovery would send an outstanding message regarding the effectiveness of using stem cells in persons of high physical activity.

Pedro Martinez was the objective at the beginning of 2009 but the three time winner of the Cy Young Award was not available. But the doors are open and doctors Guzman and Liriano say that if he undergoes the same treatment as Colon, the star from Manoguayabo could return to health and the Big Show.

Colon abandoned Major League baseball in 2009, complaining of pain in his right shoulder at 36 years of age, with a record of 3-6 and an ERA of 4.19, with the Chicago White Sox. He was practically finished.

He had important damage to his shoulder, including the rotator cuff, and his ligaments and tendons were also damaged.

Nevertheless, in the middle of March in 2010, the right-hander from Altamira accepted the invitation from Guzman and Liriano, and submitted to a transplant of stem cells to repair the damaged tissues in his right shoulder. Six weeks later he received a "booster shot", and since last October there has not been a leaguer where he has not pitched effectively.

First there was the Pre-World Championship in Puerto Rico, then winter ball with the Aguilas and the Leones del Escogido, further along he played in the Puerto Rican winter league. The offer came from the Yankees, he won a spot during Spring Training, and today he has earned a spot in the starting rotation of one of the most famous teams in baseball.

The process

The medical team, made up of Guzman, Liriano, Hector Rosario and an American specialist, took out bone marrow tissue and fatty tissue from Colon's hip. These were processed by special equipment and were them placed in his shoulder tissues.

Six weeks later, in the same surgery room at the Centro Union Medica de Santiago, 60 cc of blood were taken from a vein, processed and 6 cc were used in the shoulder and the elbow. This procedure is known as platelet-rich plasma (PRP).

Neither of the two procedures took more than 40 minutes, without any surgical trauma that required a long recovery period.

"We did not want to do a trial on a young 23-24 year old because the effectiveness could be questioned due to his age. We did it with a veteran and we hope that Felix Sanchez and other Dominican athletes that have suffered injuries will also submit to this treatment so that they can prove what can be done with stem cells", said Guzman.

Both Liriano as well as Guzman say that this medical technique is much more economical than the Tommy John surgery (which consists of taking tendons from one arm and placing them in the other, damaged, arm) which costs around US$100,000.

"We have not invented anything, nor have we done anything new. This is being done the world over", insisted Guzman. "We received some training overseas to handle this type of things. Harvard University donated the centrifuges. This is no invention. What we do is take a little bit of bone marrow and we put it into an affected area".

Previous to carrying out the practical experiment, the doctors consulted Major League owners, lawyers and doctors in order to receive their approval. In order to communicate with the doctors you can write to or

+ Leídas