Blind man sees after stem cell treatment, crafted bill to help others get access to treatment

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL)- Last year a Tennessee man was legally blind and now he can see.

Doug Oliver of Nashville has now helped craft national legislation that U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) calls the most important bill Congress is considering this year.

“It can affect virtually every American and improve their quality of life,” Alexander said.

Over the span of a decade Oliver lost his sight due to an inherited a form of blindness.

“I was not able to see most things including my grandchildren’s faces, I couldn’t read, I almost got hit by a car,” Oliver said. He went from driving with a full time job to legally blind.

When he went to a specialist for answers, “(They) told me that there was no treatment, no cure, no hope for a cure because of its rarity,” Oliver said.

After years of searching on his own, Oliver found a clinical trial he qualified for through the National Institutes of Health in 2015, a stem cell treatment using his own cells.

Oliver raised more than $20,000 and got the treatment last August.

“Within a few days I began regaining my vision,” Oliver said. “My vision has gotten better and better and in December I got my driver’s license. So I went from legally blind to driving a car in eight months.”

Since then, he has helped craft legislation with Alexander, the U.S. Senate Health Committee Chair, to speed up research and improve access to treatments and cures for chronic diseases.

“The legislation would do two things: it would move, it would change the regulatory structure so it would move new breakthroughs like the one that provided Doug Oliver sight and make it available to more Americans more rapidly. The second: it would provide about $9 billion in new funding for the National Institutes of Health,” Alexander said.

Funding that researcher Dr. Charles Stuart at the Quillen College of Medicine said is needed.

“We need money to support innovative research and I think Lamar Alexander’s proposal is a fabulous idea to focus on chronic diseases.”Stuart said. “About 90 percent of those things that are put together by people like me, investigators, don’t get funded.”

Stuart said research often gets delayed or denied because of a lack of funding, research that could lead to potential cures.

“In the next ten years, we should be able to rebuild hearts, in the same way using people’s own stem cells that would avoid a heart transplant. You should be able to create an artificial pancreas, which people who have diabetes could use because that helps check their blood and deals with insulin,” Alexander said. “All of those things, according to the National Institutes of Health, are possible in the next ten years if this legislation passes and if we fund research at the National Institutes of Health the way we should.”

“People with chronic diseases have been ready for something to happen for a long time and the truth is we’re all patients someday,” Oliver said.

Oliver said if this bill had been law when he was looking for treatment, he would have paid less and got the treatment sooner.

This bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives, and is now making its way through the Senate. Alexander said he hopes the House and Senate come to an agreement on it before July 4.

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