The Olympic medallist tells Amy Packer how a revolutionary treatment has left him pain free for the first time in decades
Colin Jackson is in high spirits. After years of searing agony from his knees, he finally has a spring in his step again.
“I’m pain free in the mornings,” he exclaims.
“I get out of bed and just think, ‘Oh my God, why didn’t I do this years ago?”
Since March, the former world champion hurdler and 1988 Olympic silver medallist has been having his own blood plasma injected back into his knees every six weeks in preparation for a stem cell transplant later this year.
He already feels like a younger man.
“It has made a huge, huge difference,” Colin, 54, says.
“The blood plasma injections are the most important part of the whole treatment because it kickstarts the healing process.
“I live in quite a hilly place just outside Cardiff and what a difference it has made to walking up and down those hills. It reminds me of what life was like 20 or 30 years ago when I didn’t have these issues. It’s amazing.”
Colin’s athletics career left him with an impressive medals cabinet but severe damage to his kneecaps, cartilage, ligaments and tendons, which seven operations have failed to remedy.
He was struggling getting in and out of the bath, his knees would seize up on long car journeys and every morning was filled with pain.
Now, slowly but surely, Colin is seeing the benefits of the plasma transfusions, which he has been having at aclinic on London’s HarleyStreet. “It’s been a steady build,” he says.
“I feel like [the cartilage] is growing back. My knees are really stable, which has allowed me to train my quad muscles more.
“Then your knees feel better because they’re better supported, which allows everything to improve.”
The treatment is not without discomfort though.
“They take my blood, remove all the red blood cells and inject the plasma back into my knees,” he explains.
“I’ve had all four sessions I needed to prepare my knees for the stem cell transplant and they build up the concentration each time.”
Rather than painful, Colin described the process as “awkward, because of course you get a lot of liquid injected in your knees that wasn’t there before and your knees are already quite full of liquid! It takes about five days for the inflammation to go down.
“You have to take it easy for the first 48hours and you can’t take any anti-inflammatory painkillers as that would make the treatment less effective, so you just have to muscle through the pain. Then things kick in and I do feel a lot better.”
Now Colin is waiting for the final stage of treatment – the stem cell transplant itself.
“I have to be out of action for about 10 days and at the moment I can’t do that because of my work schedule, but the majority of the preparation has been done, so it will happen very soon,” he says.
It’s by no means a simple process.
“They go in with a drill and take bone marrow from my femur to harvest the stem cells,” he says.
“I’ll be unconscious for that though, thankfully. I know it will be painful and I don’t want to rush my recovery, so I’m waiting for a time when I’ve got nothing on at all.
“I don’t want the pressure of knowing I have to be better for work in a few days’ time.”
He doesn’t want to leave it too long though.
“It’s exciting because I’ve been told that within three months I’ll be at the peak of my recovery and the max of what I’ll be able to do,” he says. “I’d love to be able to go snowboarding once again.”
This isn’t the first time he has suffered with a health issue more commonly associated with ageing.
In 2006, three years after he retired from athletics a blood test diagnosed Colin with high cholesterol.
“Even though I was relatively young, slim and feeling healthy, I wanted to get a benchmark of my general health so I went for a full MoT,” explains Colin.
“I never expected them to say my cholesterol was high but it was 6.1 when it shouldn’t be over five. It was such a shock.
“I went home and my mother broke the news that a lot of the family suffer from high cholesterol. Both she and my uncle have it.”
Looking back, Colin admits he might have let things go a little too much after years of focusing on being in peak condition.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’ve done 30 years of this, I’m not doing it any more’. I’d hated the fact I had to keep fit all the time and so it was a bit of rebellion.
“I used to eat cake like it was going out of fashion,” admits Colin, who is supporting Benecol’s Uncover Your Cholesterol campaign, which aims to encourage people to reconsider their diet and lifestyle by highlighting the fact that even the outwardly fit and healthy can be at risk of high cholesterol.
“It wasn’t like I needed to lose weight. I’m slight, as are my mother and uncle, but I still have to make sure I keep moving and cut back on dietary fats to keep my cholesterol at a healthy level.
“I’m in my fifties now so I really have to make sure I’ve got a real grip on what I’m doing every single day to get the right balance and avoid needing statins.”