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Tony Underhill: "I Got My Life Back!"

Tony Underhill lived a full, active life until Systemic Scleroderma ravaged his body and confined him to a wheelchair.  The autoimmune disease slowly hardened his skin until he could hardly move. 

“I nicknamed it ‘the beast inside of me’ “, says Tony.  “It’s like having an anaconda, a baby anaconda, growing inside of you, that grows just a little bit every day and he just keeps squeezing on you every day, every day.  Every day he keeps squeezing on you.”

Tony’s fiancé, Missy Chandler said it was heart wrenching to watch Tony reduced from a charismatic, successful businessman to an invalid. “By the time we realized what was going on, you could literally touch a line on his arm and it would be like concrete.”

Tony says since he suffered from systemic scleroderma, his entire body was attacked. “You’re just hard, you’re hard as a rock everywhere.  I mean you’re drawn up in a knot and you’re just hard as rock everywhere. You could have walked up to me with your pocketknife and stuck me in the arm and never got a drop of blood.”

Tony went to the best doctors in Nashville and later to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. They tried everything to treat him but nothing worked. Eventually they sent him home with devastating news.

“They told me I had systemic scleroderma,” said Tony.  “They treated me for 10 days and the day I checked out of the hospital, on my release papers under prognosis, it said “unfortunate.” I asked the doctor, you know, unfortunate, what does this mean?  He told me that, what he told me was there was no cure for it.  And that basically I had 120 days left. So I came home and all the things that I was doing last year was going to be gone – and I was gonna be gone too!”

Tony says he got inspiration from Missy who urged him to fight. “Missy said, ‘We’re not stopping here. She said there’s got to be an answer somewhere.’ ”

An acquaintance of Missy and Tony had read a story in Reader’s Digest about a patient being treated for Scleroderma with Adult Stem Cells.  Missy went to work researching and tracked down the patient featured in the story. The patient told her she had undergone an adult stem cell transplant several years ago in a clinical trial and that adult stem cells had saved her life.

Tony applied and was accepted into a similar clinical trial underway with Dr. Richard Burt at Northwestern University in Chicago. Missy says it was miraculous to see the adult stem cells go to work: “When he received the adult stem cell transplant, the day after, I have it videoed on my phone, literally we felt like he could move his hands slightly better, he could open his mouth wider. It was pretty immediate that we started to see results.”

Tony says, “Every day after I got my transplant, every day was getting better.  Every day was like getting a new shot of life in your arm every day.”

And as of today, Tony has his health back again and he continues to improve. He’s running his construction business, working out at his exercise bike and says he’s back to about 80% of his original mobility.

“I’m a walking miracle.  I’m lucky to be here, you know. Now, if I’m working with my guys, if they need me out there to work, run a machine for them to make the day better or something like that, I’ll run the backhoe, track hoe, drive a dump truck, run a Bobcat, asphalt roller, whatever I need to do.”

Says Missy, “He’s the strongest person I’ve ever met.  We are very thankful for every day that we have.  And we feel like with the adult stem cell therapies, that this is just life changing for so many people.”

Tony says, “Anybody that would ask me about adult stem cell transplant, the first thing I would tell them is, this is the Future of Medicine.  This is the Future.”