CHICAGO — Len Richard used to fight in movie scenes as a stuntman, but now he’s fighting for his life.
Diagnosed with liver disease in 2009, he’s been placed on the liver and kidney transplant list to replace his rapidly failing organs. He’s opted to have stem cell replacement therapy in place of the transplant, but his insurance won’t cover it, so he’s raising $10,000 through YouCaring.
The 44-year-old Englewood native said he’s desperate to live a healthy life and doesn’t want to risk trying the transplant. There’s the fear that the new organs won’t work for long and he’ll constantly get sick from the anti-rejection medications he’ll have to take, he said.
“Once I understood how stem cell works and how it cures people, it was a no-brainer,” Richard said. “I rather do that than have someone's organs.”
More than 5,000 liver transplants in the United States take place each year, according to the "Stem Cell Therapy for Liver Diseases," a review article published in the Journal of Stem Cell Research and Therapy. About 20,000 people are waiting for a transplant, but only 7,000 procedures are performed each year, and up to 1,500 patients die each year waiting.
“Use of stem cells to cure liver diseases has been proved beneficial in most of the conditions,” according to the article. “Scientific literature reveals the role of stem cells in treatment and cure of various diseases like liver cirrhosis, end stage liver failure, genetic liver disease and also the liver cancer. The stem cells possess the ability to renew and multiply by them or stem cells possess special characteristics of regenerating themselves.”
Besides being hospitalized twice in eighth grade for a high fever and an enlarged liver and spleen, Richard has lived a fairly healthy life, he said. He had no major health problems in high school or college.
As an adult, he worked behind the scenes in the control room at Channel 50, before moving to Los Angeles in 1998 for a similar television job. That’s when his life changed.
He was at a gym working out and got invited to train with a group who worked as stuntmen, he said.
“A stunt coordinator saw me and said that I looked like Omar and Cuba Gooding,” Richard said. “He hired me for 'Baby Boy.' That’s how I got into doing stunts.”
That job led to other jobs in major films, including "Barbershop" and "Transformers."
Everything was going well for Richard, he said, until 2008 when he tore his rotator cuff during filming for the movie "First Sunday," starring Ice Cube and Katt Williams.
“I had surgery, and the person I was seeing at the time noticed that I started losing weight and was going to the bathroom a lot,” Richard said.
When he went to the doctor for a routine checkup, he learned that he was diabetic. The doctor reviewed his medical history and asked if he has ever been evaluated for a liver transplant.
In 1987, when he was 13, he mysteriously became ill, he said. He was in the hospital for a high fever and the doctors noticed that his liver and spleen were enlarged, but didn’t know why. He was sent home only to return a few days later.
“I spent the whole summer in the hospital,” Richard said. “They did exploratory abdominal surgery and took a sample of all of my organs. They sent it to the CDC and other labs and came back with nothing.”
Now that he’s on the transplant list, Richard is hoping that he’s able to raise enough money to travel to see a doctor in Mexico — who was recommended by another patient — and have the alternative procedure instead.
“I want to avoid the transplant and keep my organs,” Richard said.
He said he misses his old life, although he did more recently work on the show "Empire." He’s on disability now, but wants to return to work and the gym.
“I was always in the gym, used to go hiking a lot, but now I work out when I feel like it,” he said. “I have low energy, and it’s kind of hard right now. I'll ride a bike and try to do air squats, but I was doing crossfit before it became too much for me.”
“Nobody wants to be sick. I’d like to be back in California, moving around. I just get tired of going to doctor, getting poked and having having them tell me I need a transplant. It’s mentally draining, and it's scary.”