Durango woman reboots immune system with $60,000 and a trip to MexicoMultiple sclerosis patients seek stem cell transplantation treatmentCarol Clark of Durango realized her immune system was attacking her body in 2000. This year, she ditched it and got a new one.Clark, owner of Union Social House in Durango, is one of at least 3,000 multiple sclerosis patients worldwide who have undergone a stem cell transplantation to try to treat the disease. For Clark, getting the treatment involved $65,000, a trip to Mexico and a “roller coaster” that she wasn’t sure she’d survive.“When my business opened up ... it was visible that I was having a hard time walking, and it was getting progressively worse,” Clark said. “That was the trigger. I decided I didn’t want to be in a wheelchair.”There are about 2.8 million people worldwide who have MS, according to the 2020 Atlas of MS led by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation. Of those, about 914,000 patients lived in the U.S. Typically, immune cells, like B cells, start out as stem cells in bone marrow and perform different defense functions for the body.But with MS, some immune cells find their way into the central nervous system. Instead of protecting the system against bacteria and viruses, the cells start attacking it – specifically myelin, a fatty insulation around nerve cells.Internally, communications within the brain, and between the central nervous system and the body, begin breaking down. Externally, people can feel fatigue or have problems with balance. They may experience numbness, tingling, muscle stiffness, weakness, difficulty walking or other symptoms.When Clark was diagnosed, her most noticeable symptom was numbness in her feet, she said. Like many MS patients, Clark tried various treatments: daily injections for years at a time, natural therapies, monthly infusions.In the meantime, Clark started Union Social House and Toast, a mobile bar. She was raising her son and spending time with goats, chickens, ducks, horses and other animals on her small ranchette east of Durango.“I get tons of joy from that,” she said. “It’s really intense to be always thinking about doctors visits. It’s just nice to have a quacky duck around you.”But by 2019, she was stumbling as she walked, and she knew her disease progression would eventually put her in a wheelchair.The Mexico programClark began researching a stem cell treatment and talking to other local community members with MS. One of her friends, Brittny Squires of Blanco, New Mexico, wanted the treatment, too.“The research says the sooner you do it, the better it is for you,” Clark said. “I’m 21 years in, but Brittny is seven years in. She’d have better luck than me.”But the treatment, called hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, is still being researched and can be hard to receive in the United States.The medications and procedures used in HSCT are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but the treatment is still not widely accepted or used as professionals watch for more well-controlled clinical studies of HSCT therapy, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.“HSCT has been done in more than 3,000 MS patients worldwide; it should not be considered experimental,” said Guillermo J. Ruiz Arguelles, director general of the Centro de Hematología y Medicina Interna in Puebla, Mexico. “HSCT is nowadays the best therapeutic option for persons with MS.”The center’s Clinica RUIZ has conducted HSCT therapy since 1993, he said. The treatment is also pricey. At the clinic, it costs at least $60,000.But for Squires and Clark, it was the best option. Squires went first. By July 2020, she launched a community fundraiser to help raise $60,000 for the treatment. By January, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was in Mexico.“It was definitely scary, but I figured I had a bigger chance of dying driving my car than getting this potentially lifesaving treatment, so why not try it,” Squires saidIn February, Clark started her own fundraiser, raising $65,000 within a month. By April, she was in Puebla seeking treatment from Ruiz Arguelles.“She (Squires) dove in and did it. I talked about it and talked about it, and she pulled the trigger,” Clark said. “I was like OK, now I have to go because I told her I was going to do it.”Out with the oldHSCT therapy is essentially an “Alt-Ctrl-Del of the immune system,” said Ruiz Arguelles, director of research at Clinica RUIZ, in an email to The Durango Herald.The treatment involves collecting a few adult stem cells found in bone marrow and blood, called hematopoietic stem cells, and storing them away. Then, the immune system is crushed using chemotherapy drugs. Finally, the stored stem cells are reintroduced to the body where they can replicate and reconstitute the immune system, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.The goal: To reboot the immune system so it stops attacking the central nervous system, Ruiz Arguelles said. The process makes you sick, and the pain is intense, both Clark and Squires said.“My personal feeling, I thought I was going to die because it was really, really hard,” said Clark, who experienced multiple fevers and had to have a blood transfusion during the treatment. “There were moments like, ‘OK, this is it, I’m cashing in my chips.’ You’re just in the hands of other people.”Each spent 30 days living in an apartment with food and a caretaker, both provided by Clinica RUIZ. There were 10 patients from around the world receiving the treatment in each group, called “stemmy brothers and sisters” because they got new immune systems at the same time, Clark said.“A port in your chest takes your blood out of your body, spins it through a centrifuge and puts it back in. The centrifuge takes out the stem cells,” Squires said. “At that point, your body hopefully creates a new immune system that doesn’t attack you.”It takes at least six months for the body to rebuild its immune system, and even longer to know for sure if the treatment worked.As of September, Clinica RUIZ has treated 1,099 MS patients, 41% of whom came from the U.S. About 80% had a good response with either improved or stabilized symptoms. The clinic’s mortality rate is 0.18%, Ruiz Arguelles said.“I don’t know that it’s worked, but without hesitation, for us, what else are you going to do?” Squires said. “I have two little kids. The options are to get worse or to do this and try to get better.”Both still have bad days where their bodies are worn out by stem cell treatment. After years of seeking treatment for the disease, it was time to take control of it, they said.“Somebody said to me: ‘I have MS, but MS does not have me,’” Clark said. “That’s a really important thing for anybody with a medical issue. ... MS is not who I am. I have to work with it and deal with it, but I don’t like it to stop me.”email@example.com
Eli Tomac’s second-half push propels him to No. 2 finish in motocross seriesCortez rider benefits from strong riding, Roczen crash Eli Tomac of Cortez on Saturday capped a comeback season with a fourth-place finish and a win at Hangtown to overtake Ken Roczen in the motocross standings and finish second overall.Dylan Ferrandis, the rookie sensation in the 450cc class, won the 2021 title.Entering Hangtown Raceway in Sacramento, California, nine points behind Roczen, Tomac set up a strong race day with a fourth-place finish in Moto 1. He started the race in fifth place and passed Christian Craig in Lap 2. Roczen grabbed the early lead over Ferrandis. Cooper Webb was in third.In Lap 6, Tomac raced nearly 2 seconds faster than Webb and passed him for third. Then, with the leaders in his sights, Tomac laid down the fastest lap of the race in Lap 7, at 2 minutes, 14.5 seconds – nearly 2 seconds faster than Ferrandis’ time.His charge was short-lived, however. He crashed in Lap 8, and finished fourth after Webb regained third place. Ferrandis overtook Roczen for the lead and eventual victory in Lap 10. “I felt like I was gonna be able to catch those guys, and of course just missed my one main line,” Tomac said in a post-race interview. “And I washed my front end out.”He also said he injured his thumb in the crash, which hindered his speed after he remounted his bike. Part 2 of the race day storyTomac got his break in Moto 2.He avoided a crash at the first turn, which snagged Ferrandis and Roczen. Ferrandis dropped to 23rd place after Lap 1, and Roczen dropped out of the race altogether.Tomac finished Lap 1 in fourth place and passed Max Anstie for third in Lap 3 while Craig and Webb raced for the lead.It was the green light that he’d been waiting for.Webb and Tomac passed Craig in Lap 5 and engaged in a duel for first. Tomac posted his fastest lap in Lap 8, and passed Webb for the lead and eventual victory with seven laps to go.Ferrandis ran perhaps the most striking comeback race of the season. After crashing in the first turn, Ferrandis started Lap 2 in 23rd place. But he charged into sixth place in Lap 5 and into third in the 14th of 15 laps.Ferrandis’ combination of a first and third in the two motos gave him the overall victory, his sixth of the 12-race season. Tomac was second overall, with a fourth and first, and Webb was third, with a third and second.Tomac’s victory in the second moto gave him his sixth moto win of the season and his third since winning the second of two motos in the Ironman in Crawfordsville, Indiana, on Aug. 28.It also capped the end of a surge that gained momentum in the second half of the series.The second half of the seasonSince racing in Washougal, Washington, on July 24, Tomac was on the moto podium nine out of 12 tries. In the first half, he was on the podium just four times.He started the second half in fourth place overall, two points behind Justin Barcia at 207-205, and 25 points behind runner-up Roczen at 230-205. Ferrandis led with 262 points.This season, Tomac won two of the 12 races and finished on the podium 13 times. His average finish during the first half of the season was 5.5. In the second half, he cut that average to 2.6, for an average of 4.1 for the entire season.Ferrandis, the rookie for Yamaha who made the leap to the 450cc class this year, won eight of the season’s 24 motos, and finished on the podium 22 times. His average finish was 2.1.Roczen won seven motos and was on the podium 15 times. His average finish for the season was 6.1.What’s next?Tomac can’t comment until Oct. 1, when his contract with Monster Energy Kawasaki expires, but insiders say he’ll join the Star Racing Yamaha team. The move would give Star Yamaha Ferrandis and Tomac, the top two finishers in the 2021 AMA Motocross series.On Saturday, Tomac said he had mixed feelings about leaving the Kawasaki “family,” and though he and the team were on good speaking terms, he was “pretty emotional.” “It was tough that way today, leaving the track, but, um you know, it’s this life-goes-on kind of thing, and that's all you can do.” Tomac’s move helped set in motion a series of changes.Jason Anderson of Albuquerque, who had talked with Star Yamaha, likely will take Tomac’s place on Monster Energy Kawasaki. Aaron Plessinger, on the way out at Star Racing Yamaha, likely will go to Red Bull KTM, and Malcolm Stewart has signed with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna.And after that? The Monster Energy Supercross season begins Jan. 8 in Anaheim, California, and Tomac, who first raced in 2010, will be there.“I still have the itch for chasing green flags and checkered flags and being on the start line,” Tomac said Saturday. “I still like to do it, so that's it: I still like to do it. I still enjoy trying to win races and trying to be the best guy. So, um, that's why I'm still around. “
People at Purple Cliffs grow frustrated with talk of closing campsiteCampers, government officials and experts favor managed campChristine and David Tarr turned to the camp at Purple Cliffs along La Posta Road in Durango when they lost stable housing in May. The camp has been a source of comfort ever since, they said.“It’s comfortable. It’s a home for us right now – where we know we can lay our heads down and say, ‘Thank you God for a good day,’” Christine Tarr said.But looming over the campers is a potential closure date for the 200-acre site: May 2022.La Plata County established the designated camp in September 2019 as a temporary option for people experiencing homelessness. The city of Durango tried to find a different location until August, when the county took over the effort. The goal is to create a managed camp in a more suitable location, according to the county.After more than a year of waiting to see if a new site will be found, some campers are increasingly frustrated with the uncertainty.“After two years of the city and county going back and forth, we’re back at square one,” said Tim Sargent, who camps at Purple Cliffs and acts as a camp leader.In early August, about 84 camps were sprawled on the steep hillside at Purple Cliffs, west of the Animas River near the Durango Walmart.The campsite includes a makeshift kitchen, shower, hand-washing stations and other amenities built up over the years. It’s a centralized location where people can be connected to services offered by local groups, such as the Neighbors in Need Alliance.“We’ve formed a community. We’ve tried really hard. I have people from (age) 3 to 70 here,” Sargent said. “Some, it’s the first time they’ve experienced homeless, and others have been doing it for decades. It’s not one-size-fits-all. There’s lots of variety up here. They just haven’t gotten to know us.”Sargent said mental health services and a weekly religious service are available for campers.“We have all of these structures, and they want to throw it away for a camp that doesn’t exist,” he said. “I don’t care where the damn camp is, but there needs to be one.”The county says the Purple Cliffs campsite is not a suitable location because of issues with wastewater, and pedestrian and driver safety on the two-lane road with no shoulders. Trash, bear activity and wildfire risk also are issues.Some issues could be mitigated, said County Commissioner Clyde Church. But improvements like widening the road or creating easier access points for trash service would cost “millions of taxpayer dollars,” he said.Plus, the camp does not comply with state camping requirements and the county’s land-use code.“It would be completely costly if not impossible to comply with the state’s campground codes up there,” Church said. He did not know exactly which codes were being broken.Emergency responders cannot access areas of the camp, and natural gas seeps from the ground in a few places. Church said he did not know Friday what the air quality impact was on campers.In fall 2020, La Plata County commissioners said the campsite would close in May. When that deadline passed, they pushed it to May 2022.Church said the county aims to stick to that closure date, but it could change. County staff members need to identify a new site and ensure it goes through the approval processes such as the land-use process, which includes opportunities for public comment.“We’re not limiting ourselves to just county property. We’re looking at other properties that could be donated or acquired,” Church said.But with the possible closure looming, it’s harder to persuade people to take care of the site, Sargent said.“Screw the ‘We’re leaving in May’ thing,” Sargent said. “Until we can find another suitable campsite, let the Purple Cliffs stay in place. That would take some of the pressure off of people.”If the county does close the encampment, the city and county should help people move to a new site, Christine Tarr said. In the meantime, David Tarr, who has epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease, hopes for improvements at Purple Cliffs that would remove safety hazards for people with disabilities. Christine Tarr also hopes drivers will stop yelling at or insulting campers.“Be kind with what comes out of ur (sic) mouth,” she said in a text message to The Durango Herald.Exploring a new siteUnlike the low-barrier Purple Cliffs site, a new camp would be managed, with a limited number of spaces and on-site support such as a camp manager, security features and access to services. County officials have referred to Camp Hope in Las Cruces, New Mexico, as a possible model.The managed camp strategy has the support of Sargent and Kathleen Van Voorhis, director of community strategy with the affordable housing group Project Moxie.Camp Hope, one of the services at the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope, focuses on a housing-first model that prioritizes connecting people with safe, affordable and stable housing.Other essential services are available at the self-governing, transitional living community made up of tents sheltered inside three-sided structures with showers and cooking facilities.The camp is limited to a capacity of 50 people. It would not serve the summer population at Purple Cliffs, but it’s the recommended capacity, Van Voorhis said. People move out of the camp to stable housing and open up new spaces.Sargent said campers are looking for something similar: a managed camp with minimal barriers, security, simple rules and basic amenities.“We need a space that can accommodate 100 people,” he said. “Fifty wouldn’t solve the problem, but it’s a great start. We can negotiate.”In the meantime, La Plata County should be ready for an increasing population of people who are experiencing insecure housing or who might fall into homelessness, Van Voorhis said.“I think the biggest thing the county and the community need to understand is we’re seeing an exponential increase in the amount of first-time homelessness over the last two years,” she said.“I think this needs to stop being an us-and-them thing,” Van Voorhis said. “The county needs to realize, whether you’re housed or unhoused, we’re all neighbors.”firstname.lastname@example.org
Ice Fire near Silverton likely caused by humans, Forest Service saysFire started at boulder 75 feet from Ice Lakes TrailThe Ice Fire, near the popular Ice Lakes Trail west of Silverton in 2020, was likely caused by humans.The 596-acre fire burned for about a week in October 2020 and led to a helicopter rescue of 28 stranded hikers. It started at a large, flat boulder in a meadow near the treeline about 75 feet from the Ice Lakes Trail, according to a U.S. Forest Service investigation released in early August.The boulder was a popular rest stop along the trail, the report said.“The only probable factor as to contributing to the start of the fire is human in nature,” the Forest Service report said. “No evidence or conclusive evidence was found in the point of origin. Therefore, the cause of the Ice Lakes Fire is inconclusive.”Investigators ruled out campfires, fireworks, burning debris and natural causes, such as lightning. Because no road or railroad was nearby, mechanical causes also were excluded.“Though no cigarette butt(s) could be found at the specific origin, this is the leading theory,” the report said.Children were listed as a possible cause because of the boulder’s proximity to the trail.The Ice Lakes Trail is one of the most popular and heavily used trails in Southwest Colorado. It starts at an elevation of 9,840 feet and climbs about 2,500 feet to two turquoise alpine lakes, Ice Lake and Island Lake.The Ice Fire was spotted Oct. 19 about half a mile up the trail. Soon after, Silverton-San Juan County Fire and Rescue crews responded to the area, about 5 miles west of town.The fire spread across the trail and headed uphill, trapping hikers near the burning area until they were rescued by helicopter.By Oct. 26, the fire was 100% contained, and a winter storm knocked it out for good.The trail, however, was heavily damaged by the blaze and closed for the summer. Weakened trees, erosion and flash floods posed safety hazards that made it too risky to open the trail, according to the Forest Service.The closure order for the trail expires Sept 15. Forest Service managers could extend the closure order if area hazards exist that pose a risk to safety. The trail will reopen only when the area is deemed safe for public entry, said Rebecca Robbins, Forest Service email@example.comEditor’s note: This story was updated to clarify the Ice Lakes Trail closure expires Sept. 15. The trail will reopen only when deemed safe for the public.