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Woman Raises Funds for Stem Cell Treatment

By Sue Mason, Gannett News Service, September 9, 2007

The heart transplant list is only a hair's breath away for Tammy, but one would be hard pressed to make this determination at first glance.  A sickly appearance and frail body do not characterize her.  But looks can be deceiving.  The reality is that two surgeries, to install repair a mitral valve and install a heart pump, a massive coronary attack, and treatments for Hodgkin's lymphoma have battered her heart.

"Even the doctors say I look good, but my doctor says you can have a shot engine, but a beautiful car," said Henderson, who grew up in Westland and now lives in Garden City.

Taking vitamin supplements helped.  CoQ10 made her heart beat faster, and allowing her to avoid a heart transplant.  However, she knew that unless she did something substantial, all the vitamins in the world would only provide a temporary fix.

She found an answer in adult stem cells.  In a treatment utilizing her own immature stem cells, the damaged portion of her heart could potentially be repaired.

The only problem is that the procedure costs $50,000 U.S. dollars.  She can't get the therapy in the United States, and her insurance wont go near it.  She will have to journey to Bangkok, Thailand in order to be treated.

Her family has gone a long way to secure the funds, they even have a sign in their front lawn.  They ask for donations of returnable bottles and cans, the latest sign marks the sixth version.

"They sent an intern in and upon waking up from the bypass surgery, he told me that if I didn't have a heart transplant, I'd die in six months," Henderson recalled. "Nobody was around, I think they were all at my Mom and Dad's. I called them hysterical."

People drop by and drop things off.  The Garden City High School is running a similar drive to fund the purchase of new swimming gear, but even they know that greater challenges exist for others.  The team dropped of three bags of returnables for Tammy with a note saying that it was more important for her to have them than the team.

The family has run garage sales and had individuals pay for $10 or $20 worth of items with a $50 dollar bill. and told them to keep the change.

Her mother and father are busy trying to raise funds and even her Sister Kelly's employer made a significant donation.

"My parents are regulars at the Red Apple Restaurant in Wayne and they're collecting for Tammy," said Moyer, who also lives in Westland.

All together, they've managed to collect $13,000.

Even though her doctors tell her that she is currently stable, she knows it is only a matter of time.

"People have been so generous and helpful, the response has already been so overwhelming," Moyer said. "It just really gives you a different look at the person next to you."

In 1990 she was diagnosed with stage II Hodgkin's lymphoma.  She got married with a wig since she underwent procedures for chemotherapy and radiation during that time.

She decided to wear a hat for the reception because she was worried about it falling off with all the hugging that was going on.

"Tammy has always had good spirits," John Henderson said. "All of the rest of us are more of a mess."

On July 23, 2001, Tammy suffered a massive heart attack after being cancer free for 11 years.  Doctors decided to install a heart pump after she had another scare five days later.  She suffered a mild-stroke that very evening, and emergency bypass surgery was performed the following day.

The process of getting a heart transplant was initiated in January of 2002 at the Henry Ford Transplant Center, where tests were conducted and samples taken.  But Tammy already knew that she needed a new heart.

Doctors were close to adding her to the list, but then doctors determined that the CoQ10 supplements had improved her hearts pumping power.

She sees her doctor every six months, limits her fluids, and takes blood thinners.  Tammy knows of another patient who already had the treatment in December, and during her next check-up on August 28th, she plans on quizzing her doctor on the patients progress.

"She should know something by then," a hopeful Henderson said.

Her trip to Thailand would last 14 days.  Upon her arrival in Bangkok, a blood sample will be taken and sent to a lab in Israel.  It is there that the stem cells will be extracted and expanded prior to being sent back to Bangkok to be administered.

"They'll re-inject me and the stem cells will immediately go to where the damage is," Henderson said. "It could take one to six months. A lot who have had this get 76 percent pumping power. I hope my age will play a major role in my doing well."

December is the date she has in her mind to her herself to Thailand.  Her sister will be able to join her on the trip at that time as well.

She desperately wants to lives so she can watch her children grow up, and this desire outweighs any difficulty she has asking for charity.

"So many people want to help, so many people want to give," she added. "My original thought was 50,000 people giving $1. I know it's a lot of money, but I'm determined to go."


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