Hopeful news with successful stem cell treatment for COVID-19

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GOLDEN, Colo. (KDVR) — Stem cells from a lab in Golden gave a COVID-19 patient near death a second chance at life. 

“First you have to thank God, but then you have to thank the stem cells too,” Zoila Rivera said, the wife of the critically ill patient. 

Fifty-three-year-old Pablo Rigual was admitted to the ER at a New Jersey hospital with COVID-19 symptoms April 1. 

Rigual was intubated in the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. He spent 36 days in a coma with both his kidneys and liver starting to fail. Doctors said his condition worsened using the standard of care and convalescent plasma treatment. 

“They called me and they told me they’re going to try plasma which the plasma you know it didn’t work for him,” Rivera said.

Carmen Rivera, Rigual’s daughter, said doctors warned them to prepare for the worst. 

FOX31’s Rob Low asked Carmen if she thought her dad might have died if not for the stem cells: “Absolutely, yeah because the plasma didn’t do nothing for him,” Carmen answered. 

Dr. Jack Zamora is the chief medical advisor for Vitro Biopharma that produces the stem cell drug called AlloRX Stem Cells. 

The Food and Drug Administration approved a compassionate care emergency use of the stem cells to treat Rigual, the first patient in the US to receive the drug. 

“This was a patient who had all the worst risk factors including being Hispanic, having obesity, hypertension, diabetes and failed every treatment possible,” Zamora said, “He got three doses. He was the sickest of the sick and still responded to just three doses.”

Doctors said dose one of 100 million stem cells came on day eight of the ventilator, dose two on day 15 and the third on day 21.  

Dr. Prabhat Soni, medical director for GIOSTAR, administered the stem cells under a protocol that had been years in the making before the pandemic. 

Dr. Soni said, “Actually, he was in multiple organ failure. It was highly likely that he would’ve died without stem cell therapy.” 

Despite a massive stroke in the hospital, Rigual is eating, talking and moving his limbs again. He has been discharged from the ICU and is undergoing physical therapy to fully recover from the stroke. His wife had feared the worst. 

“I’m so happy. I thought that he would not make it. He was real, real, real, you know I thought he could not make it,” Rivera said. 

Dr. Zamora said the stem cells provide hope. “Really, this was an incredible recovery and one that changed the way we are approaching our FDA trials to open the doors for even sicker patients,” he said. 

Doctors tell the Problem Solvers they believe their patient will go home in a month. Meanwhile, research is underway with a phase one study involving 20 patients. 

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