At age 92, Bill Erwin likes to be active.
An electrical worker most of his career, Erwin never wanted to stop doing things around his house when he got home. He has always kept a garden with a variety of vegetables that included corn stalks that were twice as tall as him. He enjoys canning the vegetables he grows and working on whatever projects are needed.
So, he wasn’t happy last November when he broke his hip, requiring hip replacement surgery and a period in a nursing home. He could not get up on his own and do the things he loved. He remembers the time in the nursing home as a time when he had little mobility.
“They would put me in a wheelchair and roll me out there and put me where they could watch me,” he remembered. “I would just sit there.”
Today, Erwin is living with his daughter, Sherri Dixon, and son-in-law, Ronald Dixon, helping repair a riding lawn mower, working in the garden, riding an all-terrain vehicle and building a fire pit.
Erwin’s muscle strength is also 30 percent stronger, according Dr. Chris Recknor, a Gainesville physician who is working with Erwin and other patients in a trial study of the effects of a new medication designed to help patients with muscle weakness. Erwin is part of one of two studies looking at improving muscle weakness in those who had a fracture and one that looks at patients with muscle weakness without any broken bones.
For the past several months, Erwin has been coming to Recknor’s Gainesville office for blood work, X-rays, examinations measuring muscle density changes and infusions of a medicine developed by Novartis, a pharmaceutical company. The patients do not pay for any of the treatments and are reimbursed for travel. As part of the study, patients do not know whether they are receiving the medication or a placebo.
While he says he is not supposed to know, Recknor said the results in Erwin’s case speak for themselves.
“Either this is very atypical, someone who happened to have a good recovery, or he got med,” Recknor said. “Fifty percent of people after a hip fracture do not recover (in muscle density) to where they were before. This is unheard of that a person does better after a fracture than before. He’s a $6 million man.”
Recknor has been working with this medication for about two years in two different studies, but has also done studies in this field for eight years.
In a previous study, he had a 96-year-old woman who went through the program.
“I went to her 100th birthday, and her muscle content was stronger than her daughter who is in her 70s,” he said. “She is totally off meds.”
“Less medicine is better, but when you need to do it, it’s important,” he said.
Erwin will get the infusions for a total of six months, but will be monitored in the study for a year.
Recknor said he believes the success in the field of muscle strength could represent a better life for patients.
“The national tendency genetically is to lose muscle,” he said. “If you can reverse that, you’re kind of unlocking some of the secret for youthfulness. This can change the way we do medicine. I think this one particular thing is like the discovery of Penicillin.This has the capability of extending life span with quality of life.”
Erwin’s daughter said she has seen the difference. One of the tests they monitor each visit is his ability to get out of a chair on his own.
“The first time when he came here, he couldn’t even do it,” she said. “Last month it took him 30 seconds just to do it five times. (Wednesday), he did it seven times in 18 seconds.
“The other day he walked a half mile, that was just using his cane,” she added. “His whole body, hips, legs, everything; it’s been a big improvement just being able to do basic things.”
And Erwin said he has seen the changes in his body.
“I’m improving as we go along,” he said. “When I first started coming to Dr. Recknor, I couldn’t even stand up. The record he’s keeping — he can see what happened in the past and where we’re going in the future — he’s leading me into the future.”
Recknor said he is still accepting patients who qualify for his trials. For more information, call 770-534-5154.