PITTSBURGH (CBS) — The road to recovery for stroke victims can often be long and difficult, but some patients are now seeing incredible recoveries thanks to a new kind of stem cell treatment.

Five years ago, 31-year-old Sonia Coontz suffered a devastating stroke that severely damaged her brain. It partially paralyzed the young woman on her right side. She could barely speak.

“Her speech was not very understandable. She couldn’t order food or communicate well,” Stanford University neurologist and neurosurgeon Dr. Gary Steinberg said.

Two years later, even after her rehab and recovery, Sonia still could barely lift her arm.

But one day after having surgery for a small experimental treatment, the results were short of amazing.

Sonia could lift her arm over her head, move it to the side, and also to her front. And her words, once again, began to flow. She described the feeling as her body waking up again.

“I woke up, and immediately, I could speak better,” said Sonia.

“She’s what we call one of our miracle patients,” said Dr. Steinberg.

Dr. Steinberg is a world-renowned brain expert and the Lacroute-Hearst Professor of Neurosurgery and Neurosciences at Stanford University Medical Center.

He headed up the clinical trial. Eighteen chronic stroke patients were involved, 12 of them came to Stanford, including Sonia. Dr. Steinberg personally performed the procedure on all of those 12 patients.

The results have stunned the doctors involved with the stroke patients. The study was recently published in the journal Stroke.

In the trial, Dr. Steinberg drilled a tiny hole into the patient’s skull, and using a very fine needle, injected modified human adult stem cells around the stroke.

“We put them around the stroke and that’s where they do their thing to recover the function,” said the neurosurgeon.

These stem cells are created by bio-tech company, SanBio.

“It’s very exciting for all the people involved in this,” said Dr. Jay Stout, a senior vice-president for the company.

Scientists at SanBio derived these cells from the bone marrow of two adult donors, and then tweaked them to secrete a variety of growth factors and proteins.

These cells don’t survive for long after transplantation. But they appear to trigger a patient’s damaged brain to begin to heal itself.

“We think that transplanting the stem cells is jumpstarting the circuits,” said Dr. Steinberg.

Most of the patients enjoyed a benefit that has lasted.

As for Sonia, her life is back on track. She’s now married and pregnant with her first child, due in September.

“It’s a boy!” she laughed as she hugged her husband and showed off the ultrasound.

Dr. Steinberg is very cautious and wants to replicate these findings in a controlled study. They are now recruiting patients.

For more information, please contact researchers at stemcellstudy@stanford.edu.

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