Gordie Howe & Howe Family Members’ Reported Investment in Stemedica

According to W5, members of Gordie Howe’s family have financial ties to Stemedica, the San Diego-based stem cell company that provided the putative stem cells administered to “Mr. Hockey” following his haemorrhagic stroke in October 2014.

Yesterday, W5 aired a feature on Gordie Howe’s “stem cell” procedures at Novastem’s Santa Clarita clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. (Novastem is Stemedica’s “distributor” in Mexico. Entitled “Gordie’s Comeback,” the program explored the Howe family’s decision to take Mr. Howe from Lubbock, Texas, where he now lives with his daughter, Cathy Purnell, to Tijuana. There, Mr. Howe was provided what W5 describes as injections of neural stem cells derived from fetal tissue and bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells reportedly obtained from a donor. After learning about Gordie Howe’s stroke, an executive at Stemedica had contacted the Howe family and offered to provide Mr. Howe with free access to stem cell procedure.

Stemedica has benefited from a powerful wave (see ESPN, Keith Olbermann interview, Knoepfler critique of Olbermann, etc.) of generally positive news media coverage since Gordie Howe’s sons announced that he had experienced a dramatic recovery after receiving stem cell “treatments” for his post-stroke symptoms. Murray Howe in particular has in interview after interview described how stem cells provided by Stemedica are responsible for what he regards as his father’s “miraculous” recovery.

On the W5 episode, Murray Howe said, “Absolutely mind blowing. I have been doing medicine for 28 years and I have never seen that in a stroke patient, especially someone going downhill like my dad was.” He added, “To me it is clear cut, you have a man on his death bed and he has a treatment and eight hours later he can walk and talk you put two and two together. I don’t see it as placebo effect.”

Marty Howe made a similar claim. “Gordie is a strong man,” he said, “but I don’t think that was it. It was definitely the stem cells that made this happen.”

Then, buried in the final seconds of the report, viewers were informed, “the Howe family say they remain convinced the stem cell therapy their father received in Mexico improved his quality of life. Some have actually invested in the stem cell company.”

To the best of my knowledge, this W5 report and a print media story the same W5 journalists, Avis Favaro and Elizabeth St. Philip, published in the Toronto Star are the first documented accounts of financial ties between Stemedica and members of the Howe family. It is unfortunate that Favaro and St. Philip didn’t give this apparent financial conflict-of-interest greater emphasis in their investigative reports.

Before examining this conflict, let me emphasize that I wish Mr. Howe and his family members the very best as they all deal with terrible circumstances. Strokes can be devastating, and I have the greatest respect for Mr. Howe’s resilience as well as the care and dedication of his sons, daughter, and other family members. Mr. Howe’s sons are aware of some of the criticism directed at their family’s decision to take Mr. Howe to Tijuana. Those of us offering such criticisms must try to understand what they were enduring and recognize that while we disagree with their choice they were trying to help Mr. Howe recover from his debilitating stroke.

But there remain important unanswered questions about the relationship between members of the Howe family and Stemedica. Respect for Mr. Howe and his family should not stop reporters and the rest of us from seeking answers to these questions.

W5 is named after “the Five Ws of journalism: Who, What, Where, When and Why?” I hope future investigative reporting addresses these five “Ws” and makes transparent the exact nature of whatever investments Howe family members have in Stemedica.

Who in the Howe family invested in Stemedica?

What is the size of this investment?

Where was this investment first discussed?

When did members of the Howe family make this investment?

Why did they decide to invest in Stemedica, why have reporters not described their investment until this weekend, and have any Howe family members done media interviews without first disclosing this investment?

Representatives of the Howe family seem convinced that the stem cell procedures provided by Stemedica resulted in an immediate and dramatic improvement in Mr. Howe’s health. While I am sceptical of many of these claims, I can understand why individuals persuaded that they witnessed a “miracle” might decide to invest some of their savings in the company that they believe helped their family member. Still, if members of the Howe family are going to continue doing interview after interview touting this “miraculous recovery,” they ought to provide a full account of their investment and when they made it. The rest of us must then decide whether their investment in Stemedica should inform our assessment of their accounts describing the “Lazarus-like recovery” of “Mr. Hockey.”

On the subject of members of the Howe family and their investment in Stemedica, the W5 report mentioned but did not explore in detail an important apparent conflict-of-interest.  Five significant “Ws” still need to be investigated.

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