WORDS: Joey Shigeo
“Pray for me. Getting bone marrow drawn for my stem cells to hopefully fix my hip.” That’s the headline that flashed on Josh Harmony’s Insta Story feed recently, the kind of headline that’s definitely going to grab your attention, especially when a few seconds later a huge needle would be hammered into this body.
If you’re familiar with Josh you know he’s spent a good chunk of time jumping down gaps and huge rails throughout the first decade of the 2000s. Review the spot destruction from a number of his Toy Machine parts like Good & Evil , or Fallen’s Ride The Sky . Turns out all that impact left some lasting damage to his hips, so he turned to a relatively new stem cell procedure to treat joint damage. While the procedure looks gnarly, this non-surgical option may help him stay on the board for many years to come. Fingers crossed.
We caught up with Josh to explain the procedure and fill us in on what he’s been up to recently.
Toy Machine’s Good & Evil .
Walk us through the injuries that led up to the medical procedure you just went through.
Well, first off I’ll say I’ve had arthritic hips for a while. Arthritis is what happens to you when your cartilage wears out in between where your bones are connected. So the particulate in my hips wore out prematurely: one, because of skateboarding; and two, because my femoral head, which is like the leg bone where it goes into your pelvis, at that joint is kinda misshapen, which is a genetic problem that I was born with. Mine wore out prematurely and my bone started grinding on bone. Even filming for my tricks in Brainwash I had such bad arthritis I couldn’t even tie my shoe! I went to doctors that told me there was nothing I could do, and eventually I had my hip “recapped,” which is hip resurfacing. They put metal around my femur head that fits into a metal socket joint, so it’s metal moving around in there instead of bone-on-bone. That was on my right hip in 2012.
Then my left hip started getting bad as well, and the doctor mentioned to me about a stem cell treatment, which is the procedure I ended up getting at a place called Regenexx. They take bone marrow out of your bone, mix it with your blood platelets, and they match it specifically to your genetic code to where your cartilage can receive it and rebuild. Like your cartilage in your hip or knee, which is the padding. When that wears out your blood isn’t really contacting it to help it repair, so you need help. They figured out a new way of encouraging growth in places where in the past—you know if you tore your meniscus even like a hundred years ago—you’re pretty much walking with a cane for the rest of your life. Back then there wasn’t really much they could do. But now there’s new stuff available.
The procedure was kind of crazy. They poked a hole in my pelvis and sucked bone marrow out of it, which was pretty painful, but I’m already walking around with no crutches and that was only two days ago and I feel great. I really do think it’s going to help me; I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to skate pain free from here on out.
It looked like a two-step process right?
It’s actually three steps. The first appointment I went in and they did an ultrasound of my hip just to see the state of it. If it was really decrepit then it probably wouldn’t be possible for them to help me. But since my joint was in good shape but just the cartilage was worn out, they injected me right away with a special solution. They basically “till the soil,” which is where they inject a sugar mixture that stimulates the joint. Then a week later that’s when they pull the bone out of you and mix it with your blood platelets, which is what I did two days ago.
The third treatment, which I have a week from now, is when they’re gonna inject some kind of fertilizing mixture that’s supposed to stimulate and help the stem cells to grow in there. After that I’m just supposed to take it easy for a few weeks and let the cells attach and let the cartilage grow. But then after that I should be able to run and skate and all that good stuff. So I’m hopeful!
Was it just local anesthetics?
Yeah, it was local. They gave me valium cause I was totally freaked out, but I took it late so I was basically stone cold sober. Then when I got home the valium kicked in and I was all over the place! I was eating ice cream high as a kite on the couch, watching Back To The Future [laughs]. Overall it was great I mean I’d do it again if it meant I could skate and be out of pain, you know? It was awesome because it wasn’t surgery—with surgery you’re laid up for weeks and it’s super painful. They prescribed me Vicodin and stuff but I didn’t even need it.
So this is all on your “good hip,” right? Not the one that has the metal?
Yeah, it’s all on the one. The one that has the metal was really bad, I don’t even know if I’d even be able to have this procedure, ‘cause on that hip I was like filming for Brainwash and stuff. Filming for those videos… I mean, I was going to China and getting tricks for Ride The Sky on Vicodin, punishing my body just getting through it; just pure survival. And then I got that surgery and it gave me a second wind, which was nice.
I don’t know what the story with that metal hip is gonna be. Hopefully the metal in my body isn’t doing anything bad to me. But I think that’s archaic. The thing that I had now, like, my advice to anyone who’s listening to this, would be to be proactive about your situation. If your knee is hurting, and it hurts a little bit and it comes and goes with pain, it could be something so simple that they can fix and it’s worth it just to get that taken care of. Otherwise, if you let it go longer then you’re gonna be in for a longer, harder road ahead. There’s things you can do preventatively now that can keep you out of the hospital and out of surgery.
Fallen’s Ride the Sky .
What advice would you give skaters who jump down stuff a lot?
All the kids are wising up ‘cause there’s so much more information out there. It’s crazy because normally you don’t care when it’s happening to you. I learned that just taking Advil and other blood-thinning pain pills are terrible for your joints. Say you skate super hard or you’re jumping down a 10-stair over and over, your body and your joints are taking abuse. Usually the first thing that people do is jump to the Advil and they pop that stuff and really that stuff does the opposite. It’s a shortcut and it makes your joints feels better for a quick minute, but it actually blocks what your body needs to rebuild the cartilage in your joints. So when you beat up your body and then you throw Advil on top of it you’re actually doing double damage to your body and your joints. A better option is to take fish oil and natural anti-inflammatory supplements. I didn’t know this until last month. So that’s why on my Instagram I’m like trying to preach it because I don’t want other people to go through the same painful road that I went down. I want all these people who love skateboarding to be able to skate for as long as they can. I mean that’s what I want to do, you know? If I can help people stay on their board then I’m all for it.
Nosegrind in SD, 2006. Photo: Shigeo
That’s great. So what’s next for you now?
Back in November 2015 I moved to Minneapolis and took a job in marketing and sales for a textile company, I did it because I just needed the funds for my family and kinda really did it out of fear. And after being there knowing what that was like I just missed skating and surfing and the culture and everything in California. I just needed to be back home in California. So, my wife and I sold our house. She was super supportive, and we’re here now doing stuff with RVCA, doing T-Shirt design, illustrations and stuff. The band I’m in, ‘Freckles,’ will be releasing a new album soon, and I will also be releasing another album very soon at JoshHarmonyMusic.com.
I’m also doing music stuff for commercial work too. Other than that, yeah just trying to put money in the right places. There’s a hot sauce company my buddy started that I’m gonna be a part of, it’s called Don Wapo Hot Sauce; it’s all organic and natural. I also might be involved in this company, Mary Joe, which is CBD-infused coffee. So it’s like they take the stuff from cannabis and it doesn’t get you high, but it’s the good stuff that kinda relieves stress and is anti-inflammatory.
There’s just all kinds of good stuff out there these days that I’m excited about and I want to be involved in. I think there’s a shift in the consciousness of what “healthy” means, and I think the older ways of western medicine are kinda fading and there’s some new stuff on the horizon that’s exciting—ways to avoid cancer and that kind of stuff. I’m just happy to be involved with skating and surfing, music, art, and just doing my thing you know. I’m excited!
That makes me so happy Josh I’m stoked for you. I hope all this works out!
For more footage of the procedure, check Josh’s Insta story Regenexx highlights @joshharmony.