Hall of Famer and former Detroit Red Wings star Gordie Howe recently underwent a second round of stem cell treatment in a bid to help him recover from a stroke he had in October.
The 87-year-old is receiving the treatments in Mexico and seems to be in good spirits, according to his family.
"Our dad continues to participate in a clinical trial where stem cells are being used in the treatment of a stroke," son Murray Howe told The Hockey News. "We'd like to wait until the first phase of that clinical trial is complete before providing any more updates. At this time, our dad is comfortable and happy. That remains our goal. We want to thank everyone for their ongoing support for Mr. Hockey."
The stroke affected the right side of Howe's body, leaving it paralyzed and affecting his speech. Strokes occur when a blood clot or bleeding interferes with the flow of blood in the brain.
Details about the nature of Howe's treatment are scarce, but one study conducted in 2014 by Dr. Gary Steinberg, chairman of neurosurgery at Stanford University, involved the injection of stem cells into the brains of 18 stroke survivors. Most of those stroke patients recovered after the stem cell treatment.
According to the Stanford School of Medicine, "Stem cell therapy offers enormous promise for the majority of the 795,000 Americans yearly who suffer a stroke yet currently have no [medications] to promote recovery."
Stem cells are undifferentiated, meaning they do not yet have a specialized function. That means they can grow into any of the body's different cell types. Stem cell stroke treatment may help tissue damaged by the stroke to rebuild itself, according to Stanford.
"There's no doubt in any of our minds that he wouldn't be here today if they hadn't treated him," Howe's son Mark told The Hockey news in June. "He had dropped 35 pounds in six weeks, and he wasn't going to live. It's the first time I've seen my dad quit."
The family released an extensive statement in December explaining the choice to pursue stem cell treatment. They're working with Novastem, a licensed distributor of stem cells manufactured by Stemedica. Novastem is conducting Institutional Review Board-approved clinical trials for a number of conditions, including stroke.
Howe's family went on to report rapid improvement after just days of treatment.
"As a family, we are thrilled that Dad's quality of life has greatly improved, and his progress has exceeded our greatest expectations," according to the family's statement.