The pain bothered him the most when he was coaching.
Will Loftus, a retired CFL player with the Edmonton Eskimos and Montreal Alouettes, was only in his early 40s, but could feel his years of playing football shoot up his legs as he stood on the field.
“It just felt like my knees were like twigs on the verge of snapping in half,” Loftus recalled.
He thought there was nothing he could do about the damaged patellar tendons in his knees, until his brother-in-law told him about a new, non-surgical treatment available in the United States.
Amniotic allograft therapy, also called regenerative therapy, uses injections of amniotic membrane into joints to help repair damaged tissue caused by injury, disease or aging.
The amniotic membrane is the innermost layer of the placenta, and contains high numbers of stem cells. It is obtained through a voluntary donation after a C-section delivery.
This type of therapy is not approved in Canada.
Loftus flew to Arizona to have both his knees and his shoulder injected with the solution — a procedure that took about half an hour — and was shocked by the results.
“I tried the product and it gave me my life back,” Loftus said. “I went from being pretty nervous, pretty scared about the future and how much faster things would deteriorate, to basically being able to live my life again.
“It’s honestly hard to really believe. You’re talking about dealing with an issue for years and years, and all of a sudden, it’s now gone within a few weeks.”
Three years later, Loftus has partnered with a group of Langley businessmen (and friends) to make this treatment more accessible to people living in the Lower Mainland.
Working with Ryan Moreno, owner of Joseph Richard Group, Jared Harman, director of marketing with Joseph Richard Group, and Dana Matheson, owner of C&D Logistics, the group has established a regenerative therapy clinic just across the border in Bellingham, Wash.
After jumping through many legal hoops to make it happen, Waterfront Health and Wellness officially opened on Tuesday, June 26, to offer both Americans and Canadians regenerative therapy using the product Surforce, created by Arizona-based company Surgenex.
The clinic will also provide a variety of complementary services, including orthopedics and physiotherapy, nutritional analysis, naturopathic medicine and acupuncture.
“This is something that people from all walks of life — people who play sports, people in older generations — need to experience. This is giving people their lives back,” Matheson said.
“This gives people a second chance at life from a physical standpoint … It’s so incredibly exciting to be able to be on the crest of something that is so revolutionary and to be able to help so many people. It’s not just a business where it’s transactions — you’re helping people.”
“The other cool thing, it’s in our own backyard,” added Moreno. “All four of us have worked in businesses in our community that are so important to all of us. That we can offer that kind of treatment to Canadians — but not only Canadians, to people in our own backyard — is very cool for us.”
Typically, Canadians who are seeking this treatment have to fly elsewhere in the United States to have the procedure done.
“There’s some people paying as much as $10,000 for a single treatment, with flights and hotel on top of that,” said Harman. Waterfront will be offering treatments for around $5,000 US.
“It’s something where you can go do it and be back in your bed the same night,” added Loftus.
“It’s one of those things where it’s convenience, and the one thing we all can never take for granted is time. When you don’t have to take a three or four day vacation, or take a few days off work, you can just go down, get it done, come back and it changes your life. Save your vacation time for your family.”
Waterfront is headed by American Dr. Amira Ahdut, but several Canadians have been recruited as well, including orthopedic director Dean Kotopski, Dr. Jonathon Berghamer and Dr. Drew Jamieson.
Jamieson, a naturopathic physician, also grew up in Langley.
“I’m excited because I look at this product as really the future of regenerative medicine,” Jamieson said. “It unlocks a whole new side of potential with respect to healing and regeneration.”
The group is opening the clinic in the United States in the wake of media reports that several medical offices are offering unapproved stem cell therapies in Canada.
Under the Food and Drugs Act, Health Canada classifies all stem cell therapies as drugs.
These therapies fall under the guidelines of the ‘Safety of Human Cells, Tissues and Organs for Transplantation Regulations’ or the ‘Food and Drug Regulations,’ depending on the specific type of cells, purpose for their use and manufacturing processes.
“Each framework has specific requirements that must be met before products can be marketed in Canada,” a Health Canada spokesperson told the Times.
“Generally, products using stem cells to cure or treat disease remain at the investigational (sic) stage of development. This means that Health Canada has not yet seen sufficient evidence that they are safe and effective. Any distribution of these stem cell-based products would require Health Canada authorization.”
Surforce, the product used at Waterfront Health and Wellness, has not been approved in Canada, Health Canada confirmed.
“Health Canada supports the regulatory authorization of stem cell therapies by developing clear guidance documents and working closely with investigators to navigate federal safety requirements,” a Health Canada spokesperson said.
“We collaborate with stakeholders, including with the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency, to ensure that our regulatory approach provides the appropriate level of oversight for these therapies and remains among the best in the world.”
Jamieson, however, believes it is “only a matter of time” before approval comes.
“It has to do with research and funding. The boards who look at these things to decide whether to approve or not approve (them) — it just doesn’t tend to move as quick up here,” he said.
“I think overall we’re all more conservative, it’s a smaller population. I just think with respect to how things are looked at … the States are always quicker; quicker to look at things, to approve things. They have more manpower, types of data.
“It probably always comes down to safety. They can say ‘safety, safety, safety, safety’ — the record on this product has been nothing short of awesome. There’s been almost no adverse reactions to date … . There’s been 13,000 of these injections and it’s been really well tolerated.”