Surgeons have, for the first time, used a combination of an artificial heart and stem cells to save the life of a dying man.
Ioannis Manolopoulos was fitted with the mechanical pump because his heart was too weak to push blood around his body.
Surgeons then injected his failing heart muscle with six million of his own stem cells in the hope that they would repair the damage.
Speaking exclusively to Sky News, he said he owed the British and Greek surgeons his life.
He said: “If things go well, I must go to church and pray because I feel very lucky to get this device and have the chance of a normal life.”
The team was led by British surgeon Professor Stephen Westaby. He has pioneered the use of mechanical pumps in patients suffering from heart failure.
But the NHS will not pay for the treatment. Instead he relies on charity funding – or travels abroad to implant pumps in countries where governments are prepared to fund the £60,000 devices.
He said: “I am very frustrated that all the work that I have done back home in the UK has to be translated into patient care in other countries.
“We have helped to develop implantation programmes in France, Greece and Japan. It’s time we did it in the UK.”
He believes heart pumps, with or without stem cells, could save the lives of 12,000 patients with serious heart failure each year.
“The economics in the health service are the problem. So many patients could benefit that the costs would be substantial,” he said.
The Greek patient had been so dangerously ill that he had been kept in hospital for four months. He had suffered at least two heart attacks and his cardiac muscle was too weak to push enough blood around his body.
Drug treatment and other surgical devices had failed to improve his condition.
In a radical attempt to save his life, surgeons implanted a Jarvic mechanical device into his heart to divert blood away from the damaged pumping chamber.
In many patients that is enough for the heart to begin to heal – sometimes so well that the mechanical pump can be safely removed weeks or months later.
But in Ioannis’ case the cardiac muscle had been badly damaged. So surgeons injected six million stem cells that they had earlier extracted from his bone marrow.
The stem cells kickstart a recovery by building new muscle and releasing chemicals that attract new blood vessels into the damaged areas.
Professor Christos Papakonstantinou, heart surgeon at the Ahepa University Hospital in Thessaloniki, said: “We hope the combination of stem cells and pumps will enable patients to enjoy life for many years.”
The Greek government has recently agreed to fund pumps for some patients with serious heart failure.
Professor Papakonstantinou said they offer good value for money because patients are able to leave hospital and do not need drug treatment.
But in Britain, the NHS will only fund pumps in transplant patients who are waiting for a donor heart. Around 100 a year are implanted.
In a statement, the Department of Health said: “Before making such technology more widely available as an indefinite long-term treatment in end-stage heart failure, the NHS needs to ensure there is clear evidence of benefit.
“We will carefully consider all new evidence on heart pumps which is published.”
(source: sky news)
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