Engineering student fights to walk again after falling 20 feet

The Melymicks are hoping stem cell research will help their son Lee regain use of his lower body, after an injury left the third-year Ryerson student paralyzed from the waist down.”

Melymick, an engineering student at Ryerson, suffered a spinal cord injury after falling 20 feet while cleaning windows during a summer job. “It was nearing the end of the day and we were finishing up and I leaned over to pass the bucket over to my partner and I just fell,” Lee Melymick said.

The Melymicks have recently started a GoFundMe page to raise money to cover the costs associated with pursuing stem cell procedures. “Since these procedures are still considered experimental, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board does not cover it,” his father, Mark Melymick, said.

Lee Braces

Lee (Melymick) stands with the assistance of braces and his physiotherapist at the Lyndhurst Centre. (Photo courtesy of Mark Melymick)

After the incident, surgical complications and countless trips to the hospital forced Melymick and his family to seek treatment.

They were inspired by retired NHL spell-out player Gordie Howe’s use of stem cell transplants after his stroke.

“A mutual friend of ours knows Gordie’s grandson so we got in touch with them and they told us about a place in Mexico,” Mark said.

The family has also been looking at cases in China and England but there is no guarantee it will help their son. “We haven’t found any cases where there has been full recovery of a spinal cord, so Lee would be the first to try,” Mark said.

They eventually learned of Dr. Michael Fehlings, head of the spinal program at Toronto Western Hospital. Fehlings is currently leading a clinical trial that uses neural cells to treat spinal cord injuries.

The trial is the first of its kind in Canada. According to a press release from the University Health Network, Toronto Western Hospital is one of three sites participating in the international trial.

Fehlings presented the latest on his trial at the annual Tator-Turnbull Spinal Cord Injury Symposium on Nov. 13. “We really are in a remarkable era, and the era of regenerative science regarding spinal cord injury isn’t a theory anymore,” he said.

In the trial, Fehlings and his team found that by injecting neural stem cells (cells that are self-renewing) into the spine, they optimized the chance of recovery.

Lee and his cousin Paula showed their support for the Toronto Blue Jays while Paula visited him in the hospital. Paula started Lee's GoFundMe page (courtesy of Paula)

Lee and his cousin Paula showed their support for the Toronto Blue Jays while Paula visited him in the hospital. Paula started Lee’s GoFundMe page (courtesy of Paula)

This is the type of research that gives Melymick and his family hope.

Their goal is to raise $100,000. According to the crowdfunding page, the money raised will cover travel expenses, the possible stem cell procedure and additional rehab Melymick may need.

In just two weeks they’ve raised over $26,000.

Even with the GoFundMe page, Mark is prepared to make the necessary sacrifices for his son. “I’ll probably have to dip into my retirement savings,” he said. “If there was a way to transplant my spine to fix his, I would have done it by now.”

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 25, 2015.

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