When Wanda Brenton arrived in Carson, California last summer to compete at the CrossFit Games, she was not ready to compete.
The Latin American champion, a Canadian who has been living in the Cayman Islands for 11 years, underwent stem cell treatment less than a month before the Games. While the treatment helped decrease her pain significantly, she was far from healed at the time.
Her decision to try a treatment that is not yet FDA approved in the United States came about coincidentally. After the Latin American regional competition in 2014, a journalist wrote a story about Brenton’s CrossFit success. The story mentioned she had qualified to the CrossFit Games despite a painful elbow and shoulder injury.
A stem cell treatment company called Regenexx Cayman saw the article and reached out to Brenton. They asked her if there was anything they could do to help. Brenton replied that she was open to ideas. But she needed to discover the nature of her pain first.
“So I went in and got an MRI and an ultrasound on both my shoulder and my elbow and there was a whole bunch of stuff going on,” Brenton said. She discovered she had a torn supraspinatus, a torn bicep tendon and a torn labrum in her shoulder, as well as two tears in her elbow—one in her common flexor tendon and one in her Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL).
Regenexx explained their treatment—a procedure called SCP, which stands for Super Concentrated Platelets. SCP uses the same approach as a more widely-known treatment called Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP), which involves injecting a patient’s own blood (platelet-rich plasma) back into their injury site to help heal the tissue naturally. SCP treatment is effective because platelets stimulate the targeted area to repair damaged tissue.
Regenexx’ website explained the process involves “extracting the patient’s own blood and running it through a simple bedside centrifuge machine to separate the plasma and concentrate the blood platelets, which are then automatically extracted and used for the PRP injection,” the website stated. The treatment is quite expensive, explained Brenton, but Regenexx sponsored her. She had her first treatment in June of 2014.
“I went in at 8:30 in the morning and they took a bunch of my blood. Then it was sent to a lab, and a technician cultivated it,” she said. After her blood was treated, it was re-injected into her body the very same day. Despite her faith in the process, Brenton knew there were no guarantees.
“They told me there’s an 80 percent chance of it working and a 20 percent chance of it not working,” she said.
The Southwest Orthopaedic Surgery Specialists in Tucson, Arizona explained one of the major advantages of PRP treatment is that—even if the procedure doesn’t work 100 percent of the time—the procedure is of little to no risk to the patient as it uses the patient’s own blood. It was recommend to Brenton she take six full weeks of complete rest before going back to training, but it was June at the time. She only had four weeks until the CrossFit Games. So two and a half weeks after the treatment, Brenton started training.
“After about two and a half weeks, I couldn’t feel the pain at all in my elbow. I had gone for months with this pain. Before the treatment, even ringing out a facecloth hurt it,” she remembered.
A week and a half later, it was time to fly to California to compete in the biggest competition of her life. Brenton competed in the first two events—the swim and the overhead squat—before withdrawing because of a bad ear infection that hit her after the ocean swim. She found herself in excruciating pain, on antibiotics, and she knew she needed to pull out.
After the Games, Brenton took the time to properly recover from her injuries. This involved a lot of rest and two additional stem cell treatment sessions—one in September and one November—and going to physiotherapy everyday.
“I had lost so much strength and stability. I couldn’t even do bent over rows with a 10 lb. DB,” she said. Despite the frustration that goes along with losing fitness, Brenton felt her injuries healing quickly.
“I had an ultrasound in December and it revealed I was totally healed,” she said. Her elbow and shoulder were 100 percent healthy again. Now it was time to get fit.
Going into the 2015 season, Brenton’s expectations were low. While qualifying to Carson in the women’s 40-44 year-old category may not have sounded realistic at the time, Brenton needed to believe in herself.
“For me, I needed a goal. I needed something to work toward. So I kept my head down and was just hoping I would get better and better each week,” she said. And then something happened that she wasn’t expecting. She snagged the last qualifying spot and earned her ticket to Carson for a second straight year, this time as a master’s athlete.
The hardest part of the Open and the Master’s Qualifier was the waiting game, she said. Since she was on the bubble fighting for her life on the leaderboard, Brenton had to wait for others to enter their scores—her fate in their hands.
“I was sitting there wondering, ‘Am I in, or am I out. It was the worst part. The waiting,” she said. “I made it by the skin of my teeth. By one point,” she added. Heading into Carson this year, Brenton feels less stressed than last year. Considering what she has endured these last 12 months, she appreciates how grateful she is to be going at all.
“I know it sounds so cliche but I just want to do the best I can do and have a little bit of fun,” she said. The best part is she’s hoping to compete pain-free.
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