Because stem cell applications have been so successful in his animal patients, McClung started looking for facilities that would administer stem cell therapy for humans - specifically, himself. He started searching online, but only found a handful of places in the U.S. offering the treatments. If he had waited a few more months, he may have been able to stay closer to home. Since August 2013, four locations in Ohio, including ProMedica in Toledo, have started offering stem cell therapy.
"I had a client a month ago tell me he was accepted at ProMedica. It just knocked my socks off because I had really looked through the Internet. When I went back to look, they had this huge flood of places," McClung said.
In spite of the travel time and expenses, McClung was pleased with his choice of clinics. He went to the Peace Wellness Center in Phoenix, Ariz., founded by Dr. Tim Peace. McClung's physician was Dr. Julie Kieffer, who had treated vision problems successfully and had undergone stem cell treatment herself to correct her own vision.
Knowing that was reassuring to McClung.
"She was taking her own medicine," he said.
Also, he had read about athletes such as Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant who had experienced good results with stem cell therapy on damaged joints.
At age 62, McClung had been dealing with degenerative joint disease for nearly 20 years. The estimated cost of knee replacements was $50,000 per knee, with insurance covering 80 percent.
In comparison, the total cost of stem cell therapy was about $7,600. He received his treatment Oct. 20, 2013. Although insurance did not cover the procedure, McClung only missed one day of work. More importantly, he avoided the possible complications that sometimes occur with joint replacements. Six months is the typical time frame for complete recovery, but McClung said he already has about 75-percent improvement.
"I'm definitely better. I can sleep at night," he said. "I still have occasional swelling, but the hope is I'll be able to do anything I want to do."
Peace is a naturopathic medical doctor who had worked for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before founding the clinic in Phoenix. McClung learned Peace has a high success rate treating multiple sclerosis with stem cells rather than the traditional steroids.
For about two months before his treatment, McClung said he took supplements for inflammation and a natural growth agent to increase the number of stems cells in his body. The day of the therapy, he received a "blood-brain" treatment that helps to thin the membrane at the base of the brain and allow the stem cells to pass through more easily. McClung said the nurse sprayed an enzyme into his nostrils.
The nurse also started tapping to determine the points that elicited pain. The injections were to be given not just in joints themselves but also in the ligaments and muscles attached to them. Next, a large quantity of saline mixed with a numbing agent was injected into McClung's lower back, which has the highest number of mesenchymal cells.
Doctors removed the fat tissue with liposuction. McClung was disappointed the doctor didn't remove belly fat instead. For him, the collection process lasted about three hours, but the minimally invasive, outpatient procedure only left "two little holes" in his back.
"They collected five vials of adipose tissue from me," McClung said.
While he was having lunch, they started processing the fat tissue. Once it was ready, he received nine injections in his neck and many more for the knees. McClung said he was exhausted at the end of the day. Afterward, he received organic anti-inflammatory nutritional supplements.
Although synthetically formulated drugs can be expensive and have dangerous side effects, stem cells are organic agents that grow in the patient's own body. They bring about healing without harming healthy cells.
"These are your cells. That's the most important part, and that part of safety is what led me to have it done on me," McClung said.
He learned about a clinic in Mexico offering treatments with stem cells from five different lines: embryonic, umbilical, endometrial, bone marrow and adipose mesenchymal stem cells. For some patients, they use all five cell lines, McClung said.
"This is not coming from a baby. This is long down the line. They've had these cell lines propagated in cell banks ... they're far-removed from the original source, and they're finding new sources every day," he added.
In the United States, stem cell therapy is regulated by the FDA, which forbids the mixing of stem cells with plasma-rich proteins. Separate procedures are requited in the U.S. McClung said doctors in other countries are allowed to mix them and give them to patients together. McClung said plasma-rich proteins stimulate the growth of stem cells. He is considering having his own plasma-rich proteins collected. These could be injected into the joints to activate the stem cells.
"Plasma-rich protein has immune modifiers in it that modulate the immune system, besides growth factors that the cells use to rebuild tissues," McClung said.
Now, wealthy patients can seek stem cell treatment in other countries, but McClung believes it should be available to everyone.
"Money is not supposed to determine if you live or die," he said.
If a lizard can regrow a tail after it snaps off, perhaps researchers can discover ways for humans to regenerate an amputated finger or replace tissue damaged by cancer or genetic defects. Stimulating the patient's own stem cells may be the answer. McClung said more than 6,000 stem cell research projects are being conducted every day. He believes stem cell therapy may offer hope in treating many neurological disorders in children and adults.
"I think we're opening a door to a whole new set of possibilities. It's a very exciting time," McClung said.