As the morning sun sears the paved path outside his Hutchinson Island condominium, Bill Bray is working up a sweat on his daily 2-mile walk.
Even though he's sweating, at no point during the brisk stroll does his pace slow or his chest burn with pain.
That's remarkable, because about four months ago, the 68-year-old Bray could barely walk from his car to his condo's lobby without getting worn out. He had angina, a condition in which the heart doesn't get enough oxygen because blood vessels are clogged with plaque. Doctors told him surgery was too risky and there was nothing else they could do for him after 10 years of heart problems.
Then, on Feb. 28, Bray was injected twice in the heart with an experimental protein that's being tested in clinical trials at JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Fla. The protein is supposed to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels to bring more oxygen to the heart.
Months later, Bray said he has more energy to do things that used to be too taxing.
"I was a completely different person. I wasn't the person I wanted to be," Bray said recently as he walked along the condo's path in a black tank top and baseball cap. "I feel great. I really do. I can walk, play golf, do a lot of other activities I couldn't do before."
About a month after the surgery, Bray noticed a change."I got up in the morning without any pain. I was able to get up and walk around. We could start doing walks like this. I wanted to do more things," he said, speaking in a soft, but very noticeable Southern accent.Six weeks after the surgery, Bray's improvement accelerated. He and his wife, Marni, took a four-day trip in late April to Key West, where he surprised her by challenging her to a race up two flights of stairs -- and winning. On Memorial Day weekend, he played 45 holes of golf in two days without any chest pain or fatigue.Even Bray's 26-month-old grandson Timmy has noticed the improvement in his grandfather. The Brays visit their grandson in Greenacres, Fla., every week."He could go to visit, but he would sit on the couch. Now they play in the yard, on the swing set, shooting baskets," Marni said.Bray, a semi-retired realtor, said his demeanor has improved, too."When you're in pain and uncomfortable, you're not the most pleasant person," he said. "I think my wife is happier."To celebrate, the couple took a trip in June to New York City followed by a cruise to Bermuda. They started planning the vacation right before Bray's procedure, hoping he would be healthy enough to go.
"If it didn't work, I'd do the best I could," he said. "When you're given a little light of hope, you say, just go for it."Living With Pain, FearBefore the heart injection, Bray had one good day for every three bad ones. On good days, he felt like he could sprint around the block; on bad days, he could barely walk around the grocery store without getting exhausted.He had bypass surgery in 1995, then a heart attack in 2003. His condition worsened over the past year as two of the four veins that his bypass surgery opened became completely blocked again, something that commonly happens with the type of surgery he had. His doctors tried to open the veins with ballooning and stents, but it didn't work. Bray was more and more tired, and getting severe chest pains about two to three times a month.Then in July 2004, Bray went to JFK Medical with chest pains so strong he thought he was dying. His cardiologist, Dr. Jay Midwall of Atlantis, told him there was nothing else he could do. Bray shouldn't have surgery because it was too risky and other procedures weren't working, he said.His heart condition severely confined his life. He cut back on work and needed three days to recover after a single golf game. Traveling with Marni was out of the question. He was often grouchy and found himself retreating from friends because he didn't want to be the kill-joy, too tired to keep up. He carried a nitroglycerin pill with him at all times.
"Experiencing angina is very painful, and in the back of your mind you don't know if you're having a heart attack or not, if that's the last breath you're going to take," he said.Then he enrolled in the clinical trial at JFK for people with severe angina who have run out of options.The trial -- being conducted at five hospitals across the country -- is testing a growth factor protein that, when injected into the heart muscle, should stimulate the growth of new blood vessels that will bring more oxygen to the heart. The protein probably won't get FDA approval and become available to other heart patients before 2008.The procedure had risks, and there was no guarantee it would work. But Bray, whose father died of a heart attack, decided he had to try. So on Feb. 28, a cardiovascular surgeon made a 2-inch incision on his chest and snaked a slightly bent needle up to his heart. He then injected the protein once on each side of Bray's heart right next to the blockages in his veins."It's well worth the risk. When the doctor tells you you really have no other choice, your decision-making changes," Bray said. "Do I want to live this way, with a limited kind of life? Or try to expand this?"New Energy, New Goals, New LifeSince the surgery, Bray hasn't had chest pain or taken a nitroglycerin pill. Doctors at JFK tested his heart on June 2 to see if new blood vessels had grown. The results of it were sent to a lab where they were compared to a test done before the surgery.
Bray didn't see the results of the comparison, so he doesn't know if his heart is actually getting more oxygen. The researchers don't want to bias him because he's still in the clinical trial. Researchers declined to provide The Palm Beach Post with the results of the recent test on Bray's heart."He was incredibly better in terms of symptoms," said Midwall, the cardiologist. "I can tell you he was a different man. The thing is, is he a different man because he wants to be, a placebo effect, or because there's blood vessels?""In August, Bray will go for a battery of medical tests. The researchers at JFK will also check him at the one-year mark. At that check-up, Bray will probably find out whether or not his heart has actually grown new blood vessels," said Jamie Kosik, director of cardiovascular research for Florida Cardiovascular Research, which is conducting the trial with JFK Medical.Bray's cardiologist has asked him to exercise, watch his cholesterol and lose 50 pounds. To do that, he's walking, lifting weights and dropping most of the carbohydrates and fried food in his diet.He has other goals, too. Though he still carries a nitroglycerin pill everywhere as a precaution, he wants to reduce the amount of seven prescriptions he takes daily. And he'd like to run down the path outside his condo rather than walk.
"I'd like to be able to have a good, strong workout again," he said.Heart Clinical TrialWhat's being tested?A growth protein named Cardio Vascu-Grow. It's designed to stimulate blood vessel growth in the heart.How does it work?Doctors inject the protein directly into a patient's heart muscle, where it should stimulate blood vessel growth.Who might this help?People with severe chest pains who still have good heart muscle function and have tried everything else including medication, angioplasty and bypass surgery.Who are candidates for the experimental procedure?JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Fla., probably will stay with the trial and will be seeking more patients. If you think you might be a good candidate, call JFK's research center at (561) 548-5538. Source: Palm Beach Post.Subscribe to ThirdAge's
Source: Health & Wellness