Friday, January 19, 2007
A former journalist battles heart disease
Click the photo to see Charlie's story


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."
i have cardiomythopy, will this procedure help me? I have no obstructions, jusst real bad thickening..
I am so happy that this procedure worked for you Charlie, I wish I could get something like this for my cardiomyopathy.. God Bless
Could you please tell me where the trials are taking place and any moe details about how the procedure works to rejuvenate dead muscle?
My brother was diagnosed at the age of 27 with Congestive Heart Failure along with Type 2 Diabetes. Since he was 9 years old, he was overweight and led an inactive lifestyle all through adulthood. By the age of 16 he had already been diagnosed with high blood pressure that he left untreated. His diet consisted mainly of meat and as he grew older - fast food. He was the virtual couch potato who spent the majority of his time in front of a computer or TV. Two months shy of his 29th birthday he passed away.

My brother was born healthy but because of his lifestyle choices early in life - it created a lot of pain for him physically and mentally and in the end cost him his life early. I really hope others learn from this - that our choices in life of what we eat and how much we eat along with the need for physical activity starts when we're young. There is a misconception that heart disease is something we get when we're "old" when in reality, we can get it at any age.
I have the same condition as the 4 comments. So what is the answer to the question?
My mom is 65 years old and has had open heart,diabetes,small strokes, and she has been in the hospital 4 times in the past 8 weeks. Dr. says they can no longer do anything with her heart. Main blockage and dieased veins. Our Primary care physican is calling on a program called Palliative Care to help us with her care. Would this something that might help her.
My husband has same heart damage. Last week he had an ICD put in his chest. this helps his heart pump and oxygenate the blood better. It would be wonderful if new muscle could be grown.
Yes, stemm cell therapy helps cardiomyopothy. There are serveral sites around the country conducting similar trials but most are done in and accute setting (following an MI). In Atlanta you can find trials at Emory Crawford Long Hospital, Piedmont Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital. You can also find similar trails at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Boston, Texas Heart Institute in Houston, Cedars Saini in Los Angeles, Weil Cornell at New York Prespeterian and University of Pittsburg. Go to www.clinicaltrials.gov for more information. Sadly, many counties are ahead of the U.S. in treatment. You can look at Thailand, Taiwan, Germany Brazil or Barbados if looking overseas. Also, if you have Coronary Artery Disease I strongly encourage you to check out the ERASE trial. Pfizer is finally testing Apo A1 Milano which has shown to dramatically reduce aterial blockages in animals and has shown success in humans as wel although Pfizer has been very slow to test this drug further and for longer than four to five weeks of treatment. All patients in the previous Phase II trial lasting only five weeks showed varied degrees of improvement and reduction of arterial blockages. The drug is also referred to as ETC-216 or rHDL.
Wanted to congratulate your attitude to deal with the disease and your braveness to urge the public to prevent a heart disease.

I had a heart attack at 33, a familiy history I decided to ignore, junk food (fast and grocery food), zero excersice and stress, clogged my artheries and got two stents.

Having 2 little sons made me react and look at my lifestyle and my daily choices (food, exercise, stress management).

After two years my life is totally different to what used to be, I lost weight, do exercise regularly, keep very commited to a healthy diet (which at the same time is very delicious) and put things in the real order, which means anything should not be as important as my family to make my life full of stress.

In fact, I feel much more healthier than the years before my hearth attack, however I could have prevented all this situation. Don't wait too long to take action.

It is never late to make things change.

God Bless you Charlie.
I also suffer from CHF. Is there a list available of which doctors or clinics are involved in this study and have your doctors indicated how and in what time frame they will gauge your success? It sounds like great news and good luck!
I am very interested in finding out more information about this new surgery. I would like to know where the trials are being held, and what I must do to be a part of a trial. Can anyone out there help by telling me who I should contact and how.

thanks a very interested patient who is looking to elongate his life.
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