If there was ever a woman on a mission, it’s Laura
Dominguez. Doctors once told her she’d never walk
again. And while she’s not ready to run a marathon, she’s
already proving them wrong, with the best yet to
An oil spill on a San Antonio freeway is blamed for the car
crash that sent Laura and her brother directly into a retaining
wall one summer afternoon in 2001. Laura was just 16
years old at the time and the crash left her completely
paralyzed from the neck down. Surgeons say she suffered
what’s known as a C6 vertebrae fracture that severely damaged
her spinal cord.
“I refused to accept their prognosis that I never would walk
again and began searching for other options,” says Laura.
After stays in several hospitals for nearly a year, Laura and
her mother relocated to San Diego, CA so that she could undergo
extensive physical therapy. While in California, they met a
family whose daughter was suffering from a similar spinal cord
injury. They were also looking for other alternatives to deal
with spinal cord injuries.
After extensive research and consultations with medical
experts in the field of spinal cord injuries, they decided to
explore a groundbreaking new surgical procedure using adult
stem cells pioneered by Dr. Carlos Lima of Portugal.
The surgery involved the removal of tissue from the
olfactory sinus area— at the back of the nose--and
transplanting it into the spinal cord at the injury site. Both
procedures, the harvesting of the tissue and the transplant,
were done at the same time. Laura was the tenth person in the
world and the second American to have this procedure done and
was featured in a special report by PBS called “Miracle
(Link to Miracle Cell (PBS)
Following the surgery she returned to California where she
continued with the physical therapy regimen, then eventually
returned home to San Antonio. Upon her return home, an
MRI revealed her spinal cord was beginning to heal.
Approximately 70% of the lesion now looked like normal spinal
cord tissue. More importantly to Laura, she began to regain
feeling in parts of her upper body and within six months of the
surgery regained feeling down to her abdomen.
Improvements in sensory feelings have continued until the
present time. She can feel down to her hips, and has regained
feeling and some movement in her legs. Laura’s upper body has
gained more strength and balance and one of the most evident
improvements has been her ability to stand and remain standing,
using a walker, and with minimal assistance. When she stands
she can contract her quadriceps and hamstring muscles.
“Every week it seems I’m able to do something new, something
different that I hadn’t done the week before,” says Laura.
Now Laura’s story is poised to take a new, potentially
groundbreaking turn. In the Fall of 2009, she traveled
again to Portugal where adult stem cells were extracted from
her nose for culturing. As this story is written, she is
preparing to fly back to Portugal where scar tissue at her
injury site will be removed and her own adult stem cells
injected in the area of her original wound.
The Laura Dominguez story is not complete. The next
chapter may or may not yield the results she seeks—but no one
can deny the determination and courage of Laura. For her
part, she has one goal in mind: “I will walk again.”