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Man with Failing Heart Get's Stem Cell Therapy

By Kathy Engle, Green Valley News, August 8, 2007

The stakes were high, literally life or death, but a 68-year-old Air Force Major decided to take the gamble.

With the hopes of returning to the life he loves in Green Valley, where he lives in The Springs with his two dogs, Buck decided to try to revive his failing heart with the stem cell therapy.

Doctors implanted Buck's own stem cells into his heart at the Bangkok Heart Hospital.  The journey took his friend John to Thailand as well.

“The schedule for me after arriving in Bangkok with John was to rest for three days. Then blood would be drawn, about one pint, and it would be flown to TheraVitae laboratories in Israel,” Buck explained.

A friend who knew of a patient from Green Valley who had successfully undergone the procedure tipped Buck off.  This gave him even more hope and inspiration knowing that someone local had benefited from the treatment he was considering.  He immediately began extensive research on the Internet to arrange his operation through a patient coordinator after having a consultation with his doctors.

Buck's heart problems were extensive.  After a serious tachycardia attack, Dr. David Lapan implanted a pacemaker/defibrillator for Buck 16 months ago.  But according to Buck, this was not a long-term solution for his heart problems.

“In mid-March of 2006, my heart was beating fine, but by summer I was forced to reduce my walking and could no longer do the things that were normal for me, such as yard work and housework."

“The beauty of adult stem cells over embryonic or cord stem cells is that they are readily available, though not in this country, and there is no rejection factor with their implantation. I truly believe this is a gift from God , and that in the near future, adult stem cells will be curing more and more health problems,” Buck said.

The operation cost Buck about $40,000 U.S. dollars.  But other expenses had to be covered separately for both John and himself such as the cost of lodging and travel.  He found out that he could only use an oxygen concentrator on most domestic flights, but not on an international flight.  He had already spent an additional $5,000 on this device.  For his flight over the Pacific, he would need to buy oxygen while in flight.

Buck has always had health troubles.  They began when he was a child and diagnosed with Polio; but ironically, he has never had a heart attack.  In the late 1970s he was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), a lung disease that includes asthma and emphysema.

Becoming a full-time RVer, he started traveling all over the country in a motor home he purchased becoming after retiring from the Air Force in 1989.

“In the mid-1990s, I was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure, more specifically known as caridomyopathy, This is when the heart begins to dilate and becomes stretched out like an old balloon and is unable to beat or pump blood efficiently," Buck explained.

“The EF or ejection fraction is a measurement of how well the heart is beating. At that time, my EF was about 37 percent. I was still snow birding between Seattle and Tucson and VA hospitals in both cities were treating me.”

He was no longer able to continue his RV lifestyle when he started feeling extremely fatigued and short of breath in the late 1990s.  He could tell that he was really slowing down.

In 2001, he was told that he should get his affairs in order since his health was seriously deteriorating after the VA in Tucson saw that his EF was now only about 20 percent.

“I could no longer walk as far as they house next door and was now using a handicap scooter to go to the stores and elsewhere,” he said.

He was put on an exercise regimen and changes were made to his medications after Buck consulted with Dr. David Lapan of Pima Heart Associates shortly after moving to Green Valley.

“Within a year, I was walking up to four miles, five times a week. I felt better than I had for years,” Buck said.

However, his heart problems didn't take a break.  He suffered a tachycardia attack (rapid heart beat) while visiting San Antonio last year.  The time had come to implant a pacemaker/defibrillator said Lapan after Buck got back home.  He suffered a set back in the summer of 2006, the procedure which left his heart beating fine was no longer acceptable, he could no longer handle everyday activities and was forced to reduce his walking.

Offering to help in any way, Lapan assisted and encouraged the stem cell treatment.  He was instrumental in completing the paper work to submit to the hospital.

Buck began making travel arrangements after he was accepted as a patient and an appointment was scheduled.

During the whole process, his condition continued to worsen.

“I decided it was time to redo my will, my living will, and my medical power of attorney. If anything were to happen to me in Thailand, legal papers would be necessary to have my body returned to the U.S. Then I had to get to the bank to wire most of the money to TheraVitae for the procedure. I mention this as I can only imagine what this would cost in the United States, even if it were allowed.”

His trip to Bangkok had to be postponed.  He was determined to be in respiratory failure and was rushed to Tucson Heart Hospital on February 5th.  He had to reschedule his trip to Thailand for March 9th, and he spent the extra time with a ventilator inserted into his lungs so he could breathe.

His heart troubles continued even though he thought he was finally out of the woods.

He was rushed by ambulance and treated once again for respiratory failure at St. Mary's Hospital in Tucson on February 20th.

“The second day in the ICU, a doctor (I will not mention his name) saw my medical chart on my trip to Thailand. He told me I was being ridiculous to consider stem cell therapy, calling it just a crapshoot,”

But both Buck and Lapan knew he had nothing to lose.  Lapan continued to encourage him to make the trip.

Coming Friday: Stem cell operation aftermath, Part II of Buck's story.


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