And now the Sikeston resident may finally be getting that chance.
Paralyzed at 19, Cole's lived each day of his life in a wheelchair since he suffered a spinal cord injury in a car wreck in 1975.
But it wasn't until a couple months ago Cole discovered he may have an opportunity to walk again through a nerve regeneration study using stem cells this fall in Beijing, China.
"If I waited on the United States to approve stem cell surgeries, I'd be too old to have the surgery," Cole, 50, said.
It was Cole's wife, Cindy, who learned about the study after reading a local news story. The couple then contacted Dr. Huang Hongyun, who is conducting the clinical study to treat chronic complete cervical spinal cord injuries and is also the director of Beijing Xishan Institute for Neuroregeneration and Functional Recovery.
To even be considered for the study, Cole had to meet several requirements. For example, he had to be younger than 60 and have a cervical spinal cord injury ranging in the C4 to C7 level (Cole's level is C6).
An MRI and pre-evaluation were also conducted by Sikeston doctors Jimmy Heath and Steven Douglas; then Cole was approved to be a candidate for the study by Hongyun.
Once approved, Cole had to find a neurotherapist to conduct six months of pre-surgery therapy. He fulfilled that requirement by finding physical therapist Tracy Davied and occupational therapist Brooke Reed of Ozark Therapy in Sikeston.
"Sikeston is real fortunate to have therapists trained in spine and neuro re-
education so I don't have to travel to Cape (Girardeau) or St. Louis to have this," Cole said. "And Ozark has been so good about working me into their schedule five days a week."
Cole's in his seventh week of pre-surgery therapy, which consists of three-
hour sessions, five days a week. During sessions Cole must ride a special bike, stretch and sit without support.
"We're not so much working on motor function, but more on flexibility, endurance and trunk control," Davied said.
Sessions begin with an hour of Cole riding his ERGYS-2 bike -- a $15,000-
custom-built bicycle, which attaches 12 computer-programmed electrodes from the equipment to his body. These electrodes stimulate the nerves; the muscles contract, resulting in movement.
Cole said he learned about the bike after being evaluated by Dr. John McDonald who is credited for helping the late Christopher Reeve regain some movement.
The purpose of the therapy is to help build Cole's aerobic capacity and endurance to help nerve regeneration following his surgery, his therapists said.
In addition to therapy, Cole quit smoking and changed his diet so he could have more energy.
"I changed my eating by 100 percent," Cole said. "I used to eat one meal a day because I didn't want to gain any weight."
Cindy Cole said she's noticed some muscle tone in her husband's legs and increased stamina since he began the daily therapy sessions. "He has a healthier color about him," she said.
Cole is one of only 28 people who will be divided into four groups for the study. Three groups will each receive a different type of stem cells (cells collected from aborted fetuses), and one group will receive no stem cells.
"You won't know which one you will get," Cole said. "You will be in Beijing for 30 days. They will implant the stem cell where the spinal cord nerve is severed. Hopefully, nerve regeneration will take place."
After the 30 days, Cole will return to therapy at Ozark for six months. To optimize results, Reed said therapy should begin as soon as possible following procedure.
"Then you go back and when they conclude the study, if you didn't receive the stem cell determined to be the best for treatment, then you will have the surgery with that stem cell for free," Cole said.
Cole's first visit will be paid for out of his own pocket, which will be several thousand dollars. Cole said insurance will not cover the surgery or therapy because Cole's "quality of life is good."
Cole is expected to undergo surgery in November or December. He knows there's no certainty with the surgery, but it's a risk he's willing to take.
"If I sit in that chair the rest of my life, I sit there," Cole said while riding his bike and nodding toward his wheelchair. "I have the opportunity to get out of the chair, and I'm going to take it."
Cole continued: "When you go on vacation, you just go. Right? I don't. I have to check on how wide the bathroom doors at the hotel are and whether there's handicap accessibility."
There's no sound of self-pity in Cole's voice; he's simply telling it like it is.
Cole credited his wife of 24 years for continuously giving him her entire support.
"I don't have to sit in that wheelchair. I just have to be behind it," Cindy Cole said.
Cole said he doesn't know what drives him to go through all of this work just for the mere chance he might be able to walk again.
"It's just been a dream," Cole said.
Cole, a Christian, is aware of the controversy associated with stem cell use but, he said: "That's between me and the Lord."