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Indian American doc saves Hollywood actor's life

November 29, 2013 13:05 IST

Indian American doc saves Hollywood actor's life

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Aziz Haniffa

In yet another historic first by an Indian American, Dr Amit N Patel, associate professor in the division of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Utah, in a procedure using a new technique of retrograde gene therapy on a human heart, has saved the life of erstwhile Hollywood actor Ernie Lively.

When Lively moved to a scenic home in Heber City in the mountains of Wasatch County in Utah to escape the hectic pace of Hollywood when he retired after an acting career that included a long list of television and film appearances, including Passenger 57 and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the active lifestyle he had craved for was not to be.

The University of Utah in tracing the story that led to Patel performing this first such procedure in the world, recalled that Lively’s heart was failing after a massive heart attack in 2003, which left him functioning with only half a healthy heart, which progressively continued to get worse.

His ejection fraction -- the measurement of the percentage of blood leaving the heart each time it contracts -- continued to decline and it left him without any energy and totally frustrated because he was only miles away from some of the world’s best ski resorts, but too weak to participate in an activity he once loved.

Far from skiing, he could hardly walk a few steps without needing to stop, and then having to plop and try to recoup his energy to even speak after just having walked up the 45 steps of his home.

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Image: Dr Amit N Patel performing the surgery on Hollywood actor Ernie Lively (Inset) Dr Amit N Patel


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Indian American doc saves Hollywood actor's life

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Aziz Haniffa

It was then that the 66-year-old connected with Dr Patel in February and became his patient and was pulled back from the jaws of death after a complication with an angiogram left Lively with a severed aorta and a heap of problems with its coronary arteries.

According to the University of Utah School of Medicine, ‘During the journey of his heart health issues, Lively peppered Patel with questions about one idea for helping to heal his ailing heart -- stem cell therapy.’

And this month, the University reported that Lively ‘got his wish when he became the first patient in the world to undergo retrograde gene therapy at University of Utah Hospital, a novel procedure designed to deliver stem cells to the heart to repair damaged muscle and arteries in the most minimally invasive way possible.’

Patel had started investigating cell and gene-based therapies for the treatment of heart disease 12 years ago, but only recently received FDA approval to try the therapy on Lively, who was the first of several patients anxious to receive the treatment, the University said.

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Aziz Haniffa

Patel told rediff.com, “The procedure involves going backwards from the vein the leg up into heart. I block the blood flow out the heart with a balloon and infuse a large dose of human DNA -- gene therapy of SDF-1 (stromal derived factor) -- into the heart.”

“By blocking the outflow of blood and still having the heart beating and the patient awake, the heart muscle is bathed in the gene therapy. We block the blood flow for ten minutes. Once the balloon is deflated, the blood flow returns to normal,” he said.

“It is pretty incredible. Imagine having a heart procedure that can potentially regenerate or rejuvenate your heart muscle -- and something that is done as an outpatient procedure,” he added.

Patel explained, “The gene therapy attracts the patient’s own stem cells from the heart, blood, and bone marrow to the site on injury -- in this case the heart. The patient can feel the benefit as early as one month, but most between four and 12 months. We constantly monitor the patients for safety and benefit. A total of 72 patients will be enrolled in this study.”

He said, “This is the next generation of biologic therapy for the heart. It is safe, low cost, minimally invasive, and can be used on many patients with heart failure.”

He spoke of how, “We were able to perform the procedure while the patient was awake and watching the procedure. He was too high risk to have a full anesthetic. We are very optimistic that the patient will benefit and improve their heart function. We were very glad that the procedure was very safe.” 

The University of Utah reported that ‘after becoming the first patient in the world to undergo the procedure, Lively returned home and is recovering. 


Image: (Inset): Ernie Lively with his daughter Blake lively


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