BANGOR, Maine — Many high school seniors across Maine are graduating this weekend. Earlier this evening, 262 students graduated from Bangor High School. One of them is 19-year-old Kenneth Kelley.
His road to the graduation stage was not a certain one. After Kenneth was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of two, doctors told his mother Marty Kelley it was possible he would never learn to speak.
"Kenneth had the vocabulary of a three-year-old at age eight, so he wasn't really talking, he couldn't answer any questions, I was still changing his diaper," says Marty Kelley. "So then we decided to do stem cell therapy, we were one of the first in the whole world to do this."
After a lot of research, Kenneth's family took him to Panama to undergo eight stem cell treatment sessions. The type of therapy is illegal in the United States, but that his parents say it was a game-changer for their son.
After the first session, the family noticed a significant improvement in Kenneth's overall behavior. Throughout the years, Kenneth has learned to read, write, be more social.
Now, he's graduating high school. His mother says, "With school testing, he is testing average! Average compared to other 19 years old children in math scores, some writing scores, everything is way above the MR range. His overall IQ has jumped over 20 points."
Starting when Kenneth was 8-years-old, he received stem cells from umbilical cord blood at a hospital in Panama. Between the ages of eight and twelve, he had four stem cell treatments, followed by four additional treatments when he was in high school.
Marty says out of all the treatments they've tried-- supplements, vitamins, diet, hyperbaric oxygen-- "[stem cell treatment] had the most science behind it."
Recalling the therapy sessions, Kenneth says, "I was able to start remembering things."
The Kelley family calls Kenneth's progress "a miracle."
"He basically went from low functioning, in a diaper, couldn't speak, to high functioning autism," says Marty Kelley.
Kenneth is ready to embark on the next chapter of his life, going to a trades school, or helping with some of the small businesses Kenneth's parents own.
"I never thought he would read or write, let alone graduate," said Marty Kelley. "I am overwhelmed; it's the end of a journey and the beginning of a new one."
In the United States, the FDA has approved only two uses for stem cells: for fighting blood cancers and immune disorders.
According to the FDA, there are stem cell clinics that claim to be safe in the U.S. and use unregulated treatments that are illegal and in some cases harmful.