Cecelia Johnson was an artist, cellist, tap dancer, and 22-year-old college student when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001. The disease, in which the body’s immune system attacks the tissue protecting nerves, proceeds at its own pace: Sometimes the deterioration is halting, sometimes it can be delayed, but there is no cure. Johnson’s decline was swift.
Six years after her diagnosis, undone by fatigue and pain and often unable to walk, Johnson gave up on conventional medicine. In the spring of 2007 she traveled from her home in Houston to Mexico, where an American doctor gave her an infusion of adult stem cells that were supposed to regenerate her damaged tissue. “I thought this guy might be peddling snake oil,” says Johnson. “But I would have taken snake oil.” The procedure cost her $14,000.