Stem cells used to repair heart damage

July 10, 2009 5:22:45 PM PDT
Imagine a future where someone has a heart attack, and gets a shot to repair their heart. It's happening here and now with great success. John Hartman found hope and a way to literally repair his heart that was badly damaged by a heart attack.

"The heart muscle was beginning to die," he recalled. The Hartmans came 1,000 miles for injections of stem cells at Texas Heart Institute. They pray the stem cells will breathe life back into John's dying heart cells.

Sue Hartman said, "It's a miracle but not a huge mystery."

And it's not controversial. THI researchers use adult stem cells taken from John's own bone marrow.

Dr. Jim Willerson President, Texas Heart Institute, said, "We think the improvement we see is largely from the blood flow increase salvaging the cells that are reversibly injured, allowing them to function normally."

"That reflects in the patient being able to do better, walk further, breathe better," said Dr. Emerson Perin St Luke's, THI Cardiologist.

Texas Heart Institute was the first place in the world to test stem cells to replace damaged heart tissue. Now they are doing five simultaneous studies. John received 15 injections of stem cells in his heart. A 3D map showed Dr. Perin where to inject them. John gets millions with each injection.

"We want to be able to largely regenerate the heart with the patient's own cells," said Dr. Willerson.

The Texas Heart Institute researchers have treated more than 100 heart patients with stem cells in the past nine years. Many of these patients were waiting to die, until they got the treatment and realized they were going to live.

Dr. Willerson said, "In time, Christi, it's going to be possible to take stem cells off the shelf, and administer them to the patient, cells that we know will make new heart muscle cells."

John went home the next day. The stem cells should begin working in about two months.

He said, "If they work, I'll go play basketball again."

Texas Heart researchers are also testing stem cells on people who have just suffered a heart attack. For information on one of their heart and stem cell studies, call 1-866-924-STEM (7836) or go to the THI website texasheart.org for more information.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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