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Health Beat: Fixing the heart with stem cells

Health Beat: Fixing the heart with stem cells

CHICAGO - The most dangerous heart attack is known as a STEMI. It's when the artery in the heart completely blocks blood flow.

Every minute counts when it comes to surviving a STEMI. Now, a patient's own stem cells could hold the key to recovery.

Branko Koscak is making healthier choices after suffering a massive heart attack. Working 18 hour days had finally caught up with him.

"Just running all day, pretty much day and night," Koscak said.

Dr. Gary Schaer, a cardiologist, said the damage done by Koscak's nearly 100 percent blocked artery was life-threatening.

"Whole areas of the heart muscle had been severely injured by the heart attack," said Schaer, director of cardiology research, Rush University Medical Center.

Schaer is testing a new technique using a patient's own stem cells.

"This is the most exciting area of medicine that I've been involved in, in my 30 years or so of practice," Schaer explained.

A week after Koscak's heart attack, a catheter was placed into his previously blocked artery, and stem cells from his bone marrow were infused.

"It goes all the way through a catheter and comes out to a tip and it's infused down to the artery," Schaer said. "It begins the repair process and perhaps could reverse some of the damage that's already occurred."

Preliminary evidence shows it takes somewhere between three to six months for maximum benefit. Koscak is taking it day by day.

"I consider myself fortunate that I got a wake-up call," he said.

It was a call that has already changed his eating habits, his work life, and his heart for the better.

The phase two PreSERVE trial completed enrollment in December. If the trial demonstrates that cell therapy results in benefits compared to placebo, it will more than likely move on to a larger phase three trial.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary and an in-depth interview with the doctor

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