What if there was a cure?

What if…

What if a CHD could be cured? Not “repaired” surgically, but completely and totally cured. That is one of the long range promises of Stem Cells.

You’ve heard about Stem Cells, I’m sure. You’ve certainly heard the great debate, mainly centered on Embryonic Stem Cells. An Embryonic Stem Cell, it is believed, has the potential to cure almost anything.

But where do we get those Embryonic Stem Cells? From stillborn babies? Certainly. But what if there aren’t enough Embryonic Stem Cells available from that source? Do we clone? Do we (gulp) collect eggs, fertilize, remove the stem cells and then abort later? Each answered question only seems to generate more questions.

I’m not trying to get political here. It’s not my intention to make CHDs a Conservative/Liberal, Democrat or Republican debate. By definition, a Congenital Heart Defect manifests itself before you are born, long before you’ve decided on your political affiliation. This post is my answer to a question someone asked me about a month ago — Wouldn’t you like to be “normal”? Since I don’t THINK they weren’t questioning my mental facilities, I assume they were asking if I would like to be heart healthy.

Who wouldn’t? And there is really only one or two ways to make that happen: Transplant or Stem Cells. Since a transplant obligates you to a lifetime of high powered anti-rejection drugs, I’m going to eliminate that as a “cure”.

And here’s a surprise for you: Using Adult Stem Cells, we’re halfway there already. This study showed that Adult Stem Cells taken from bone marrow can be injected into the heart. Heart function improves and none of the study group showed any ill effects. Another study done in England was also to test growth factor drugs to make the body produce more stem cells, rather than removing them from the bone marrow.

Amazing stuff. If I understand the procedure correctly, the test subject — in this case, me — is taken down to the Operating Room and some of my bone marrow would be removed. The marrow would be spun in a centrifuge, the stem cells separated and drawn off. Three days later, we go back to the OR. My heart is stopped (I am not sure why the heart has to be stopped, but it seems that it has to), the stem cells injected into my heart, and then the heart is restarted by a defibrillator. Within 72 hours my heart would be growing new heart muscle.

Right now this is being tested to improve heart function for those of us with Congenstive Heart Failure. It’s not a cure– yet. But no one though you could successfully correct a CHD through a surgical procedure. Alfred Blalock, Helen Taussig, and Viven Thomas proved them wrong.

If there was a cure for Tricuspid Atresia, would I take it? Probably not. If I hadn’t been born with a heart defect, I would never had met the great doctors and nurses I now count among my friends. I would have never developed the personality that I have. I’m sure it rubs people the wrong way sometimes, but it must be pretty good: no one has beat me up since grade school! And I would have never met the great people who make up the Adult Congenital Heart Association.

A cure? Wonderful! But as for me, I am who I am.

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