22 March 2005 -Daily News
Rotorua woman Willie Terpstra is showing signs of physical improvement after controversial stem cell surgery in China she hopes will extend her life.
Mrs Terpstra, 64, was diagnosed with the degenerative condition motor neurone disease about a year ago. Since then she has had difficulty with everyday activities such as talking and eating.
She is the first New Zealander to undergo the surgery, which was carried out at Beijing West Hill Hospital yesterday.
The procedure, which was championed by paralysed actor Christopher Reeve before his death, is banned in New Zealand because it uses stem cells from aborted foetuses.
It involves drilling holes in the skull and inserting two million stem cells into the brain.
Her daughter Ren Terpstra, who is in Beijing with her mother and father Rein, said her mother came out of the operation happy.
"She was great, she came out of the operation smiling - a little bit emotional, but she came out with a big grin on her face," she told National Radio.
She then slept for about four hours before waking up, with signs of improvement in her condition.
"She wasn't cured obviously but she was happy, she didn't have a headache, no ill effects," Ms Terpstra said.
Before the operation Mrs Terpstra had great difficulty swallowing but afterwards drank a glass of juice in one go.
"That was really, really exciting.
"She hasn't been able to swallow more than one mouthful at a time with great difficulty for months, maybe six months," Ms Terpstra said.
"It was amazing, really amazing."
The family also noticed Mrs Terpstra's bottom lip, which used to hang because she had no control over it, looked more normal and she was no longer dribbling.
"We're trying not to get our hopes up too much because no one knows what's going to happen, but the initial signs are amazing," Ms Terpstra said.
Another improvement was in Mrs Terpstra's voice, which sounded stronger after the operation.
One goal of the operation was for her mother to get her speech back fully, but even if this did not happen the improvements so far were great, Ms Terpstra said.
Her mother was excited and hopeful about the improvements shown so far, she said.
"She's done it, it was scary and initial signs are good and now we just wait and see and hope."
Mrs Terpstra will now undergo two weeks of intensive therapy before returning to New Zealand.
The therapy would include painful pressure point acupuncture by "an old Chinese doctor (the patients) call Dr Pain," Ms Terpstra said.
"Apparently all that helps and we'll see how she goes."
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