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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

This blog is a record of events in the life of Joseph Taggart and his family since his spinal cord injury while body surfing in Guatemala in January 2006.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Halfway Mark in Qingdao

Today's update from Joseph in Qingdao, China:

Sunday, May 18
On Sunday Matt and I took the opportunity to take a day of rest. It has surprised us both how worn out we get at the end of the day, and by the end of the week we certainly need a little bit of time to recuperate. We spent most of the day resting, catching up on e-mails, writing in our journals and reading. I have been listening to an audio book version of "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Matt has been reading "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer.

I have had an interesting time answering e-mails from people who've stumbled across my blog. Most of those who have e-mailed me are people who are investigating stem cell therapy either for themselves or a loved one. People from all over Europe, South Africa, the United States and elsewhere have already contacted me. It's easy to feel both their excitement and caution about the treatments. I've been completely satisfied with my decision to participate in the therapies here in China, I pray that they too can come to a decision that they are equally satisfied with.

Monday, May 19
Monday morning physical therapy continued his normal. Jason, my therapist, and started having one of his assistants work on me at the same time he is. This makes my therapy sessions much more efficient, which is good, but it wears me out quite a bit more.

That evening Matt and I walked down to the Qingdao Agricultural University that is just a few blocks away from the hospital. We were hoping to find students who spoke English to hang out with. We are constantly being approached on the streets by people who speak a little English, but so far those who've spoken the best seem to come from the Agricultural University.

The main entrance to the University starts with a long open space about a city block long filled with large sidewalks and flowers. Eventually it comes to a handful of little bridges going up over a canal lined with trees and walkways. Once you cross the canal there is a huge open plaza -- probably 150 x 150 yards, it's called Rainbow Square. Around the edges of the plaza are tall administrative buildings with a large Chinese flag in the middle. Beyond the initial plaza are large green spaces with open water features, flowers and foot paths everywhere.

The student housing was quite large, it houses around 20,000 students. There were probably 15 apartment buildings each about 10 stories high. Everyone's laundry was hanging out off their balconies to dry. There were even a few Chinese flags together with banners, hanging off the sides of the buildings, probably expressing grief to those affected by the earthquake. There seemed to be a large book swap going on along the main sidewalk down the middle of the student housing. Everyone had their old text books and magazines lined up on display along the sidewalk ready to sell. Both sides of the main sidewalk were covered for probably 200 yards. Judging by the covers on the books there was obviously a lot of agriculture and farming studied, as well as English, business, mathematics and geography. The magazines for the most interesting, the male students seem to have a lot of magazines with Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, and David Beckham on the cover. The girls mostly had typical fashion magazines, both Western and Eastern.

It seemed like everyone who wasn't at the book swap was over at the basketball courts. We watched them play for a few minutes. Of the 20 or so different games going on we could probably count on one hand and the number of baskets that were made. Looks like it'll be a few more years before a Yao Ming emerges from Qingdao. They were certainly giving it their best effort though.

We feel like we only scratched the surface of exploring the university and we really didn't find anyone who spoke English well enough for us to have a conversation with. Our friend Jack (the translator here) studies at that university, he's pointed out to us now where the English department is, so maybe it'll be easier next time.

Tuesday, May 20
On Tuesday night we were getting a little bit restless so we went out for a walk. We headed into a different direction than we normally do, and we went quite a ways. We stumbled across the entrance to "Century Park" (it turns out the other part we had been going to was in reality a much smaller impostor).

Century Park is probably six or eight city blocks all put together. There is a massive lake divided in the middle by a couple of islands. It would take ages explaining all the neat little pathways and sculptures that exist throughout the area. So I will let the pictures do the talking. We returned later in the week with Dad to take more pictures and do some more exploring. I know I've said this before, but I wish the United States would invest in its city parks like the Chinese do. It's unbelievable!

Wednesday, May 21
Wednesday afternoon I had my fourth stem cell transplant. That's halfway through! It's hard to believe that the time is going so fast. Only four weeks remain for our stay here in Qingdao. We have been having such a good time since our arrival, we've completely lost track of all time. If it weren't for my regular stem cell injections we would be hard-pressed even know what day the week it is.

The injunction went well, I stayed awake through the entire procedure despite the Valium and anesthetic they put in my IV. I can't feel anything back there, but it's interesting to hear the doctors discuss the procedure as they do it. Of course this is all done in Chinese, but I like to pretend I know what's going on.

I've been curious as to geographical origin of the stem cells I have been receiving, where the babies are being born, and where the stem cells are being processed. Here is what I have figured out so far. There is one central stem cell bank here in China. All of the stem cells used in China come from this central bank. It's located somewhere in the south of China in a city called "Fu Zhou" (?). To further complicate the matter, the cord blood is flown in from all over the country to the central bank to be processed. So the wonderful Chinese mother and baby that has donated their healthy cord blood to benefit people like me could literally be anywhere in the country. I was naïvely hoping that the donation was the least coming from somewhere in Qingdao so I could at least to visit the facility or meet a donor. Oh well.

In the central stem cell bank, various tests are conducted on the cord blood to ensure that it is clean and healthy. Then they spin the blood in a centrifuge to separate the stem cells. Once they are isolated, they are grown in a culture until there are roughly 10 to 15 million cells. At which point they are packaged and shipped immediately to us waiting for them here in Qingdao. I understand that they have a very short shelf life, and that patients receive the stem cells as soon as they reach the hospital. Apparently the packaging used this ship the stem cells is pretty impressive, I'm going to see if I can track down some of it to take a picture.

Anyway, back to Wednesday. My injection went great, and the six-hours seemed to go by more quickly than the other times. I'm still getting a fever the night of each injection, but it's fairly mild and the doctors say it's normal. After asking around most of the patients seem to either get a fever or a headache. I much happier with the fever.

Thursday, May 22
After talking with a few of the other patients. We figured it was time to throw another party in the hospital common area. Matt and I were in charge of purchasing the ice cream/drinks etc. for the event. On our way to the grocery store, we talked a couple friends of ours into going with us. Their names are Brenda and Mandy. Mandy is 21 years old, and suffers from a disease similar to MS. Brenda is her energetic and spunky mother from rural Missouri. We've had a lot of fun spending time with them. Neither of them have ever really spent a lot of time outside of the country before, so both have been really hesitant to venture out beyond the hospital. We had Mandy take a ride in our spare LDS charities wheelchair, kindly pushed by Matt, and we visited the jade shop on the way to the grocery store.

We've become quite good friends with the shop owner and his family. Usually everyone is there at the shop when we arrive, Grandpa, Dad, Mom, and their two daughters. Chang Zhi is their 12-year-old daughter who speaks just enough English to help her daddy barter with the tourists. We got plenty of pictures with them this time, and I'm sure as long as we keep bringing more American tourists to their shop will continue to be their new best friends :-)

Just as the party was starting back at the hospital, Dad arrived from the airport. He seemed pretty exhausted when he arrived, so he didn't stay long. He commented how was nice to be back home in Qingdao -- that made me think a little bit. This place really is starting to feel like home.

Friday, May 23
Since Dad only had one full day to play here in Qingdao before he left for Shanghai on Saturday we decided to go back to Century Park. I added about 8 miles to the odometer on my wheelchair cruising around the park that day.

One highlight of the day was a phone call from Jim Ely. He wanted to let us know that our friend Andy was successful in obtaining a visa to study in the United States. He will leave in a couple months time to study at a small college in Washington State. He is still in Beijing sorting out the paperwork, but we are all anxious to see him again and congratulate him. I really hope we'll get a chance to bring him down the Salt Lake City for a few days.

Another interesting phone call we got was from the CEO of Beike (the company offering the stem cell therapies). His wife was organizing an event for a bunch of bigwigs and they wanted to know if Matt and Dad wanted to go. He also mentioned that they would have an opportunity to drive a Maserati around Qingdao. Of course they jumped at the chance!

Saturday, May 24
Matt and Dad left around 9 a.m. with the driver to go and drive their Maserati. I stayed back in the hospital since they told us the event was not going to be wheelchair accessible. They said they had a lot of fun, had a wonderful meal, got a massage and drove the Maserati. (Dad Adds: The highlight of the day was meeting three remarkable women and hearing their stories. Jonathan's wife Rose, Sally the head of the Qingdao Chamber of Commerce, and Sarah [with Matt on right] an entrepreneur from Qingdao who now lives in Beijing, owns several companies and is restoring the historic Govenors House in Qingdao as a boutique hotel. She organized the event. We were impressed with their friendliness, sincerity, intellingence and remarkable lives).

Sunday, May 25
Matt and a bunch of the other patients all split a taxi into town with one of the off-duty nurses. They went to large shopping center filled with thousands and thousands of knockoff items. They said just about anything you can imagine was available there. And best of all, all prices were negotiable. Everyone came back with an assortment of goodies and treasures to bring home. Gucci belts, backpacks, throwing knives, Prada purses, clothes, jewelry -- a little bit of everything. The shopping center is not wheelchair accessible, so I spent another day hanging out at the hospital watching Chinese television, napping, and surfing the Internet. Sigh...

I just got my schedule, and it looks like I'm having another spinal injection tomorrow. But that's the only one next week, Friday and Saturday will be our days off.


Blogger KATEMARIE said...

Joe! Your entries are SO fantastic! I love reading your updates and hearing about the facinating people you are meeting! I will send you an email on facebook and get more updates to you as well. Miss you!!!! Hang in there!


May 25, 2008, 9:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great update. What a wonderful adventure you guys are having--in addition to all the blessings! --Maria

May 26, 2008, 6:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


its monday, memorial day. i am heading back to rexburg, ida. not going in a maserati... just a chevy truck!!!!! some fun huh!!!!! best of luck this week with all that will go on with you.... much love from taylorsville... bennion 8th is rooting for you!!!!!

May 26, 2008, 4:43:00 PM  
Blogger Cori said...

Hi Joseph-
I finally found your blog site and got caught up on the miracles in your life! WOW! What amazing adventures for you, and so many others. I love what you write and how you see things. Keep doing it...and we'll keep reading. And of course, we will keep the prayers going up as well.
Love you,
Cori Connors

May 29, 2008, 12:05:00 AM  

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