Friday, January 19, 2007
A former journalist battles heart disease
Editor's note: Retired CNN journalist Charlie Hoff, 61, knows too well the toll of heart disease. Three heart attacks left him in congestive heart failure. After open-heart surgery and other treatments, his doctors said he might need a transplant. Then he read about a clinical trial in which a patient's own cells are used to rejuvenate heart tissue. He joined the trial a year ago and has seen great results. We asked him to blog today about his experience.
Heart disease is a killer but we don't start worrying about it until our hair begins to gray. When I look at the risk factors for heart disease: family history, diet, smoking and a lack of exercise, it can be scary. Few of us eschewed cheeseburgers for fruits and vegetables when we had a choice and many in my generation were heavy smokers.
The pain associated with the onset of a heart attack is angina. Angina is non-discriminating and may attack your body in places other than your chest. My first episode was signaled by a pain in the neck - I was alone, confused and in denial. I did not get help for several hours and I have paid the price.
The blockage in my coronary arteries prevented blood from getting to part of my heart muscle and that part of my heart died. I had suffered a myocardial infarction, an MI. That marvelous organ that sustains life beats in your chest more than 100,000 times a day. When the heart muscle is compromised, it's less efficient.
I had two more heart attacks and although I got help much faster, complications caused additional damage. My heart's ability to pump blood was significantly reduced and I was told I had congestive heart failure or CHF.
In congestive heart failure your organs don't get enough blood because the heart is not pushing the blood out to the body with enough force. Many organs are undermined, especially the kidneys. The domino effect of weak organs and prescribed medications combine with an accumulation of fluids in the lungs to sap your strength and make many routine tasks impossible.
A year ago, climbing stairs or walking up even the slightest incline left me breathless. When I learned about a new experimental treatment that might restore part of my damaged heart muscle I knew it was my best shot at getting well, or at least getting stronger.
I am very fortunate that one of the trial sites for this treatment is Atlanta's St. Joseph's Hospital, only about seven miles from my home. On January 30 of last year Dr. Nicholas Chronos and his team used a catheter in my left ventricle and injected millions of muscle cells harvested from my own body into the dead muscle tissue in my heart.
In the past year I learned how to manage my condition. I don't know yet whether my heart muscle is in fact stronger. Tests at the end of the treatment in a few weeks will tell more. I do know I feel stronger. Life is good. I am very lucky, and I intend to remain lucky and strong for many years. I believe my improvement is just beginning.
Since my first heart attack countless friends and associates come to me with worries about chest pains. We discuss their symptoms, I ask a few questions and tell them: "see a doctor."
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
PREVIOUS POSTS• My childhood memories of cancer
• Paying the price for preventive care
• Hunting for clues to Castro's health
• Stop a killer, but promote sex? That is the questi...
• Livestrong: A life changing moment
• "War on cancer" continues
• Lance's fire burns bright
• Alzheimer's and Folate
• The Potential of Stem Cells