One of the areas where breakthrough stem-cell therapy has shown incredible results is in the field of orthopedics, joint pain and chronic pain. At NovaGenix, a clinic located in Jupiter, Florida, veteran black belt Tim Bruce and his partner have successfully treated injured martial artists of all types, from pro fighters to school-owner instructors. Using same-day stem-cell procedures, patients can come in and receive treatment in about one hour — and the cost is very reasonable!
By Timothy Bruce
Before I delve into my current position treating the injuries of martial arts athletes with state-of-the-art, regenerative-medical techniques, I want to share my martial arts background. I want readers to know that I’m just like a lot of you. I’ve spent most of my life practicing various martial arts. My training ranges from a traditional “old-school” style of karate to, eventually, modern Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), the art I fell in love with.
Coupled with my medical education, my long and diverse martial arts background gives me a unique — and more personalized — agenda in wanting to help my fellow martial artists. My partners and I were able to capitalize on our martial arts experience and, so far, have been successfully treating injured BJJ and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters. That’s what I do today.
Another Kid Struck by The Karate Kid Lightning Bolt!
But my story really begins more than 30 years ago, when I saw the movie The Karate Kid, in 1984. As a youngster, it inspired me to try my hand in the martial arts.
After weeks of persistent begging, I was able to convince my parents to sign me up for lessons out of a local Okinawan karate school that was run by a very strict, traditional Japanese sensei. He was very tough and demanding, and I was young and undisciplined. When practicing katas, if our feet were an inch off from the proper positioning, he would hit us with a bamboo cane he carried around. This practice would most likely not fly in today’s day and age!
I enjoyed sparring and learning cool self-defense techniques, but the formality and intensity proved too much for me at such a young age. I did manage to earn my blue belt, but it was a short-lived career. Like that of many young kids who start taking martial arts classes, it ended way too soon.
However, I can say that the several months I was there did instill in me some valuable knowledge that translated well outside karate and into life. I learned quickly that karate, like any other martial art, takes a lot of hard work and discipline for an individual to become successful. It was a work ethic that I took into all future endeavors.
BJJ Speaks to His Heart
I had possessed natural talent and was instinctively drawn to martial arts. So, it was only a matter of time before I retried my luck at finding a new dojo. Eventually, I found my way back into a few other martial arts academies. I was able to study a little judo, kenpo and tang soo do. But it wasn’t until 1998, when I was in my early 20s, that I found Tai Kai Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, an academy in Delaware run by Mike Bidwell.
Bidwell is a successful black belt instructor who currently has a massive online following in the BJJ community for his web page, BJJ After 40. I had been attending the University of Delaware and had wanted to try BJJ after meeting a few Brazilians. I saw the effectiveness of submission grappling in the early UFC events. I tried a class and instantly fell in love.
I had finally found my calling in martial arts. I had found the one discipline that made the most sense to me and matched well with my natural physical gifts. BJJ spoke to me and I quickly began to excel. I eventually received my black belt after over a decade of training and my current rank is 2nd-degree black belt.
As coincidence would have it, I ended up meeting another jiu-jitsu aficionado, Andy Stock, who, much like me, had stumbled upon BJJ and quickly fell in love with the art. He had moved to South Florida from Lexington, Kentucky, where he had begun training in the martial arts with Michael O’Donnell, a Carlson Gracie, Jr. black belt at Four Seasons MMA.
He had reached out to me online after moving to the Boca Raton area and had asked about a good school to continue training. I suggested the school I was attending, and he came to it to give it a shot.
Using Martial Arts Connections to Launch a Business
Andy and I became friends and this is where the story of NovaGenix begins. He had approached me about an idea to open up a medical clinic in Jupiter, Florida with him. At the time, he was a 1st-degree black belt in BJJ, a personal trainer, and was also running a few anti-aging clinics in the area. He wanted to start his own clinic.
He knew the clinical side of the business inside and out. Together, we figured that we could start a clinic that offered treatment for your typical patient, the men and women who want to look and feel better. But also, we could offer expert medical care to athletes and other martial artists, to help them with issues like nutrient and hormone deficiency.
We also knew that we were in the unique position in another context. We could treat some of the injuries that come with the daily training and competition that many athletes and fighters subject themselves to. Because Andy and I were deeply entrenched in the martial arts community, we had many connections to high-level fighters, coaches and teams in the mixed martial arts (MMA) world. We saw this as a unique opportunity to run a successful operation that could help a lot of people.
We did some research, looked deeper into the idea and decided to go for it. We opened NovaGenix in late 2016. As fate would have it, one of my jiu-jitsu students, familiar with our plans, knew a physician who was looking to start up a practice doing the same thing. Dr. Timothy Sigman was local to the Jupiter area and one of the most highly experienced physicians in the field of anti-aging and hormone-replacement therapy.
We met with him, often at night after teaching our jiu-jitsu classes, and learned about his vast experience and expertise as a physician. We discussed various protocols for many of the services we had planned on offering. We also learned about some of the ideology, procedures and philosophy he had when dealing with patients and practicing medicine.
The Magic of PRP
His demeanor, personality and wealth of knowledge made him the perfect fit for our vision of what we had wanted NovaGenix to become. We quickly built out our modest practice from scratch and began treating patients for hormone deficiency, weight loss and something called PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) therapy.
Please bear with me now as I briefly explain a few technical facts about PRP. I promise to be brief, but try to give you, the reader, enough basic info in just three paragraphs to grasp what makes PRP work as a regenerative medicine.
The process involves taking a few test tubes of blood from a patient, then, spinning them in a centrifuge machine to separate the blood into its various components: red blood cells, white blood cells, the Buffy coat and the plasma that contains the platelets.
These platelets contain growth factors and cytokines, which are the cells that heal the body from the inside out. Platelets are universally known to be the cells responsible for causing blood to clot. However, platelets also contain hundreds of proteins that play a significant role in healing and repairing damaged tissue and injuries.
When preparing a PRP sample, we will increase the concentration of growth factors in the sample 10 to 14 times greater than what is contained within normal blood. When injecting that PRP into areas of chronic injury — like tendinitis, arthritis or even an acute ligament, tendon or muscle injury — we begin to see the incredible benefits of PRP for athletes.
Healing within a Few Weeks! Really?
For example, let’s take a patient with a partially torn ACL or meniscus, who may need surgery. In many cases, he can receive PRP and heal within a few weeks and no longer need to undergo any surgical procedure to recover. He can even be healthy enough to continue training and compete.
Now, to be honest, I had never heard of PRP before we met our medical director, Dr. Sigman. I was well-read on science, biology and medicine, but PRP was a new topic for me.
He had told us about regenerative medicine, the clinical benefits of PRP and the process involved. It honestly seemed like science fiction to me at the time: too good to be true. I was educated and a former nationally certified emergency medical technician (EMT) and thought, “How come I’ve never heard of PRP before?”
After some research, I discovered that PRP has been around for quite some time, but has been used mostly in Europe. As it turns out, the United States is way behind many other developed nations in certain areas of healthcare. The slow acceptance of stem-cell therapy and PRP is another example of medical treatments that we should be embracing, but are being held up due to regulatory limitations and lack of insurance coverage.
Our First “Experimental Subject!”
I was interested in PRP for sure, but wanted to see it for myself. So, after a little thought, we recruited one of my jiu-jitsu students to be our very first “guinea pig.”
He was an amateur MMA fighter and really tough guy who trained hard, but was unfortunately prone to injuries. Ankles, knees, hip, elbow, shoulder, wrist — you name it, he hurt it!
At the time, he had been injured and off of the mats for three months because of the damage he had sustained in training. I talked to him to see if he wanted to come in for therapy and he scheduled an appointment to receive PRP.
We were able to process a significant amount of blood from him and performed several injections on most of his major joints that had injuries. I had very little understanding of how long the process of recovery for him would take, since he was my first experience with PRP. But the doctor explained that he should see results in a relatively short amount of time.
The Healing Process
Everyone is different, and people will have several factors that influence the rate at which they heal. So, I didn’t think much of it until three weeks later, when I walked in the gym and noticed him training again — at full speed, nonetheless! He went from being unable to even work out due to the significant amount of pain from his injuries, back to training in martial arts and preparing for Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments and MMA competitions.
How Word of Our Success Spread
This particular “experimental” student also happens to host a podcast about MMA and fighting, called The Sixth Round, where he had recently interviewed current UFC fighter and Brazilian jiu-jitsu world-champion Gilbert Burns.
He would split time training between the Jupiter Jiu-Jitsu Academy, where I teach, and the Combat Club in Lantana, where Burns and his brother, Herbert, teach. The latter’s also where a significant number of pro fighters would work out and train.
After Burns saw the quick recovery and healing from PRP that this student experienced, he approached me and asked if we’d be able to help him out as well. He had gotten injured during a training session for an upcoming bout in the UFC and was unable to fully use his right arm. He was still trying to teach classes and do what he could, but he was only able to partially demonstrate moves and training was out of the question.
We think Burns is one of the hardest workers and toughest human beings alive! So, for him to be limited in his training meant that he was in legitimate pain. We scheduled a time for him to come in and performed platelet-rich plasma therapy in the injured arm.
Our first patient, as pointed out above, recovered amazingly well, but I was nervous for this one. After all, the guy is a highly respected BJJ world champion and UFC veteran with a winning record in the Octagon. I really wanted this to work out because it didn’t just have professional implications for our clinic if it was successful.
Burns is one of the nicest guys that you could ever hope to meet. I really wanted him to be able to recover so that he could continue fighting, training and teaching.
It was around two-and-a-half-weeks later when I went into the gym and saw Burns again, who met me with his famous smile and came up to greet me. I asked him how he was feeling and his response was something I’ll never forget.
He said that after the first week, he wasn’t sure because it didn’t feel any different. But around week two, he started to notice a substantial difference. He said that he went from being in significant pain to 100% better within that brief period of time. In fact, he had already started training again and working out in preparation for upcoming fights.
To say I was relieved is an understatement. The results were so impressive that word quickly spread. Soon after, we were able to treat his brother, Herbert Burns, who is also a pro MMA fighter and BJJ black belt world champion. Herbert, too, was able to recover from his injuries and went on to fight in MMA events, BJJ super fights and, recently, won the American National Championship at the IBJJF event in Las Vegas.
Within weeks, we were getting calls and treating high-level UFC fighters every other week, it seemed. Hands, wrists, shoulders, necks, elbows, backs, knees — we were treating them all. The amount of injuries and conditions coming through the doors was staggering.
Clients Could Relate to Us as Martial Artists
Some guys treated old problems that they had been fighting through for years, while others needed help for injuries they had sustained during camp a that jeopardized an upcoming fight.
The fact that two jiu-jitsu black belts were running a clinic where they could receive treatment that helped heal fighters’ injuries helped entice fighters to call us to schedule appointments. It made other martial artists comfortable in knowing they could trust our honesty and integrity.
Many guys would tell us that they hated doctors, but were relieved when they found us because we could relate and tell them honestly what was going on with them. Almost all of them had stories where a doctor told them that they needed to stop training in martial arts. As we know, that’s not an option for fighters whose livelihood depends on their ability to train and compete.
The fact that we knew what they had to go through and were familiar with their injuries on a personal level made it easy for fighters to entrust their health and best interest to us. It opened up the floodgates, and more and more UFC fighters started coming in for treatments.
As BJJ and MMA are small communities, all the teammates of fighters we successfully treated — who also had various injuries ranging from chronic pain to fairly serious muscle, tendon and ligament tears — started calling us and walking through our doors. We started treating black belt instructors from various local academies and, once they experienced relief, their students would be soon to follow. As a lifelong martial artist and black belt in BJJ, it was personally gratifying to be able to help out the guys who are currently competing and showcasing the art and sport that I hold dear. Despite not training with these guys to prepare them for the fights, it’s a good feeling to know that we had our part in helping them. We have personally saved several fights for the UFC by treating patients who were a month out from stepping into the Octagon, who sustained during their training camps that would have prevented them from fighting. Fortunately, they came to us and received PRP and were able to heal in time to fight.
We’ve been able to successfully treat a large number of pro athletes who seek us out for medical care. We’ve worked with professional MMA fighters, world-champion martial artists, pro boxers and rugby stars, pro golfers and hockey players, and collegiate baseball, football and softball stars, among others. We have a client-filled wall of autographs that’s a Who’s Who of pro athletes in the South Florida area.
Both my partner, Andy Stock, and I still love training, teaching and even competing in our respective age groups. This new treatment therapy has been another way for us to entrench ourselves into the world of martial arts and make a difference, if not on the mats, through the business we started, nurtured and have grown.
Tim Bruce has trained in martial arts for some 35 years, is a 2nd-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has coached, been a judge, referee, competitor and instructor. He started teaching BJJ in 2004 and has written about sport jiu-jitsu for several publications and websites. He currently teaches at the Jupiter Boxing Club in Florida.
Bruce and his partner, Andy Stock, currently own and operate NovaGenix, an anti-aging and hormone-therapy clinic. With locations in both Jupiter and Fort Lauderdale, NovaGenix claims to be South Florida’s premier regenerative medicine, stem cell, and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy clinic. To learn more, call (561) 277-8260 or send them an email to [email protected].
Disclaimer: As publisher, the Martial Arts Industry Association (MAIA) makes no endorsements, representations, guarantees or warranties concerning the products and or services presented in this article. We expressly disclaim any and all liability arising from or relating to the manufacture, sale, distribution, use, misuse or other act of any party in regard to such products and/or services.
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