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Cape Town - Medical authorities are formally investigating a Cape doctor after a city man received “stem-cell” transplant surgery.

Tommie Prins, 32, from Robertson, told the Cape Argus he was “honoured” to be the first known patient to receive the transplant in South Africa in an operation in October.

Prins told how his life had changed - seemingly for ever - while on a seaside holiday on the Garden Route six years ago. He had plunged into the ocean to swim and hit a sandbank. He had broken his neck and been a quadriplegic since.

Now, since operations by Paarl-based neurosurgeon Adriaan Liebenberg on October 10 and 24, a seemingly miraculous recovery had begun, Prins said.

“I have gone from a ‘complete injury’ to an ‘incomplete injury’, meaning I have some movement now, and am very optimistic.

“Every day there are new muscle groups which wake up. We can see flexes in muscles which wouldn’t move before.

“I can move my right wrist already, and my left wrist is slowly coming along. My bicep muscle can contract voluntarily.”

“It inspires me, motivates me to exercise harder every day,” Prins said.

The hospital group and the neurosurgeon told the Cape Argus they had received full formal permission to perform the operation. But now the Society of Neuro-Surgeons of SA (SNSA) has lodged a formal letter of concern with the Health Professions Council of SA and with Liebenberg.

The society’s president, Sameer Nadvi, wrote: “Although you are not a member of SNSA, we… voice our concerns regarding recent media reports that you have been performing Stem Cell Therapy (SCT) in patients with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI).

“As you are no doubt aware, in the current neurosurgical literature, there is no… proof that any form of Cellular Therapy definitely improves outcomes of human Spinal Cord Injury.”

Nadvi went on to “respectfully” ask Liebenberg to reconsider performing such therapies - because of the “vulnerability of desperate SCI patients, the high costs involved, the lack of scientific evidence in clinical improvement to humans and the ethical and legal issues surrounding SCT”.

Furthermore, the association warned Liebenberg he had to follow the council’s “General Ethical Guidelines for Biotechnology Research”, which were “fairly rigorous”.

The council confirmed a standard investigation was under way.

Cape Argus