A dad denied a heart transplant because he was ONE per cent below the threshold has become the first n Europe to undergo new treatment on compassionate grounds.
Gordon Foster overcame cancer and major heart attacks that caused severe damage to his heart muscle.
He suffered his first heart attack at 30 and went on to have two major and several smaller ones.
Yet, despite his heart working at only 17 per cent of its normal function, he missed out on a heart transplant because it was just above the threshold of 16 per cent.
Now, Gordon has become the first patient to undergo stem cell treatment to regenerate part of his dead heart muscle through the new Compassionate Treatment Programme, the first of its kind in Europe, at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.
At his home in the hamlet of Thornholme, near Bridlington, East Yorks., Gordon, 59, said: “I thought last year would be my last. Now, I have so much hope for the future.
“I have had the best care I could ever wish for from the NHS. I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been. Someone up there must be looking out for me.”
Gordon developed cancer when he was 22 and believes his illness may have been linked to his father’s work for the RAF testing British nuclear weapons in Christmas Island in the 1950s.
About 21,000 British servicemen were exposed to explosions wearing no protective clothing.
He said: “I remember as a child, the radio used to crackle when my dad walked past and when he died, he was riddled with cancer.”
Gordon underwent intensive radiotherapy, which he thinks damaged his heart, and suffered the major heart attack eight years later as he renovated his home for him and his bride-to-be Joanne.
The couple brought forward their wedding day in case he did not survive.
However, they went on to have two children – James, now 25, and Rebekah, 23, – but Mr Foster’s health declined over the years despite him throwing himself into his job as a welder fabricator for structural steel firm Severfield Reeve.
After experiencing more heart attacks and being told by a cardiology specialist he needed a heart transplant, Gordon went to Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire.
Tests showed his heart function rate was 17 per cent, just 1 per cent too high for a heart transplant.
Despite his employers changing his role several times in an attempt to reduce his workload, he had to give up work on medical grounds about ten years ago.
Five years ago, Gordon was invited to take part in a Stem Cell Research Trial, funded by the Heart Cells Foundation, to help patients with heart failure.
However, he was selected at random as part of the group receiving a placebo so his condition did not improve.
However, in September, the Stem Cell Research Team invited him back down to St Bart’s to see if he was suitable for treatment under its new Compassionate Treatment Programme and treatment began in November.
Jenifer Rosenberg, chairwoman of the Heart Cells Foundation, said the programme’s aim was to treat patients with severe heart disease with stem cell therapy on compassionate grounds to give them back their lives.
For five days, Gordon had injections to stimulate the growth of his own stem cells and on the sixth day, the team extracted bone marrow from the bottom of his back.
His bone marrow was sent by express courier across London to a laboratory where scientists extracted stem cells which were then put straight into the dead section of Gordon’s heart muscle in an attempt to regenerate it.
And it worked.
“When I got back home, I felt really good,” he said. “I could walk up the stairs without getting the pain. It was so marvellous.”
Although he still has a lung condition and is about to begin another trial at Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham to help his breathing, his heart continues to repair itself thanks to the stem cell treatment.
“I will forever be thankful to the Heart Cells Foundation and the team at St Bart’s. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today and I’m enjoying every moment I spend with my wife and my children.
“Not only has the stem cell treatment I received helped to improve my physical health, but it has also massively improved my mental health and I now live every day with hope for the future.”
Visit www.heartcellsfoundation.com to donate to Heart Cells Foundation and the Compassionate Treatment Programme.