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Thai Hospital Helps American Man's Heart with Adult Stem Cell Procedure

By Sarah AuBuchon, Suburban Journals, March 30, 2007

Bill was running out of time. He owned 126 different timepieces, he was in a sense, a time collector. But ironically enough, he was losing the very thing he spent his life trying to gather.

Bill only had a year to live according to his cardiologist. That was 7 months ago. His 77-year-old body had been through enough after he suffered damaged tissues and blood vessels in three-quarters of his heart due to three separate heart attacks over the past 15 years. The damage was supposedly irreversible.

"My heart looked like a moon just coming up over the horizon," he said. "Most of my heart was dead."

Performing even the most uncomplicated tasks became almost impossible because breathing became so difficult for Bill.

"Going to the barn or even across a room was so hard I had to sit down," he said. "I couldn't think real good and I was so weak."

Then one day, Bill’s daughter Linda found a story about Don Ho. The Hawaiian singer had traveled to Bangkok where his own stem cells were used to lessen the symptoms of his advanced heart disease by regenerating the tissue and veins surrounding his heart.

"Don Ho had stem cell done at 85 and it was a success," he said.

Linda relayed the information about the clinic in Bangkok to her father.

"She told me I was going to pay a chunk of money and I thought 'What kind of a scam is this?'" he said.

Bill decided the least he could do was research the clinic. So he did, and his fears of going to a place off-shore for treatment disappeared and he became very encouraged.

"The company gave me numbers of people across the United States who had it done," he said. "I called a guy in Texas and he told me he had a great turnaround. Then I called a guy in New Jersey who said he wasn't doing too well, at least for the first six months. He got pneumonia, but it's been a year now and he's doing great. I called different ones around the country and decided to give it a try."

This specific stem cell procedure has only been performed on 44 Americans. A number which now includes Bill.

His insurance did not cover the cost of treatment in anyway, and the three week trip which included the procedure, airfare, hospital stay, hotel, and food, cost him about $50,000.

Surrounded by plenty of food and hospitality within plush accommodations, Bill says he was “treated like a king” in Bangkok.

"Their hospitals make ours look sick," he said. "My hospital room had a coffer ceiling with a chandelier, a computer system, a bathtub five people could fit in, an overstuffed couch, a stocked refrigerator and a table and four chairs with a menu on the table eight pages long. Over here you push a button and they yell, 'What do you want?' There you push the button and they come in real quietly and politely ask you what you need."

The procedure involves harvesting blood from either the patient’s bone marrow or main blood stream. The blood is processed and the stem cells are extracted. Then either through a main artery in the leg that leads to the heart, or through general surgery, the stem cells are re-injected into the patient.

"There's no question about it, it exists and it seems to be beneficial," says Washington University Professor of Medicine and Director of Interventional Cardiology John Lasala, M.D. "We have looked into this and actually have an expert, Emerson Perin, from the Texas Heart Institute coming up next month to discuss stem cell therapy."

There are two types of stem cell treatments according to Lasala. One procedure grows new heart cells and the other derives new blood vessels around the heart. Heart attack victims and people with severe chest pain benefit from enhanced blood flow to the heart, so a procedure where new blood vessels are created would be ideal. On the other hand, people with heart damage benefit from new heart cells.

"This protocol is nice because it allows four or five days after a heart attack before you re-inject the cells," he said. "You've got time to get the usual strand of care in for the patient."

Lasala says that an abnormal heart rhythm, although unlikely, is a potential side effect from the procedure. The abnormality caused by irritation in the heart would cause discomfort.

"While we can't endorse everyone running over to Bangkok, the technique is very enticing," he said, "and clearly warrants more investigation in a scientific environment."

Bill said that each passing month makes him feel healthier and stronger. But he did have a minor fight with pneumonia last Christmas.

"I can jog now," he said.

Bill said that although he was unable to add to his collection of timepieces with a purchase in Bangkok, he was able to bring back time. More time to spend with his wife Marge and the rest of his family.


 

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