By ALESHA CADET
Tribune Features Reporter
THE Bahamas Heart Centre (BHC) announced its successful performance of the first cardiac stem cell implantation in the country, earlier this month.
The Bahamas Heart Centre in conjunction with Advanced Innovative Medicine Inc of Orlando, Florida, claimed the success as a medical tourism first, as the patient, an American visitor, travelled to the Bahamas specifically for the operation.
“We would have made a significant milestone with respect to an advancement in medical care while at the same time giving medical tourism a significant medical injection,” said Dr Conville Brown, director and CEO at the BHC, speaking at a press conference last week.
Unlike most stem cell procedures, the patient’s own stem cells were used in the procedure, said Dr Brown. “ We develop these stem cells after withdrawing blood from the patient, as if somebody is donating blood,” he said.
“This gets processed in a special laboratory that is used to expand the number of stem cells that are in the patient’s own blood. A week later basically, we then prepare the patient for the operating room and we re-implant these cells back into the patient’s body and in this particular instance, in the patient’s heart,” said Dr Brown.
He said this procedure has been done elsewhere in the world before, but it is the very first time for the Bahamas.
“It’s done under what is called Clinical Trial Protocol, with National Ethics Committee Approval and that is the basis of how this has been done,” he said.
Dr Brown said the procedure is very expensive, partly because there is a lot of technology involved.
“Particularly when you talk about stem cell therapy, the expansion of the patient’s stem cells is a procedure that generally attracts a price in the region of 20 to 30,000 dollars just for the cells. And nobody has put them in yet and nobody has taken them from the patient yet, so the general price is somewhere easily around the 40 to 50,000 dollar range,” said Dr Brown.
In the case with the BHC patient, Dr Brown said the cost was significantly reduced because the Bahamas is able to deliver services at a more competitive cost.
Dr Brown said the patient had advanced coronary artery disease; he had significant blockages in his blood vessels and he had already undergone bypass surgery on a number of occasions.
BHC’s Interventional Cardiologist Dr Bimal Francis said: “This American gentleman was 62 years old and from 1989 he has been having heart disease in the form of having suffered a heart attack. Subsequent to that, he had a bypass surgery in 1989, but unfortunately for him within six months, all of his graphs were blocked.”
Dr Francis said the patient was considered for the stem cell treatment as a last option before one may consider doing a heart transplant. Dr Francis said a full response to the procedure would take about two to three months to manifest.
“What we are doing is we are injecting cells that can grow into tiny new blood vessels, brand new blood vessels. These would be able to increase the blood supply to the heart. It takes time for it to do that and we would like to see some improvement within about three months,” said Dr Francis.
Dr Brown said the BHC has an impressive team that they are very proud of . “Not all of the team is here because we required basically about 14 to 15 teams that all had to chip in to make this particular procedure a success and to bring it to pass after more than one year of preparation,” he said.
Dr Brown’s team consisted of Dr Zurina Salas, noninvasive cardiologist; Dr Bimal Francis, interventional cardiologist; Matthew Sebastian, cardiac nurse; Celeste King-Dorsette, head cardiac nurse; Antoine Roberts, cardiac technician and perfusionist from the Bahamas Interventional Cardiology Centre at Doctors Hospital; and Dr James Margolis, principal investigator and world-renown cardiologist.
“Many teams had to be coordinated for this historic procedure which promises to bring new options and hope for many afflicted with a vast array of illnesses, including severe heart disease and heart failure, especially where transplantation might have been their last resort,” said Dr Francis.