HOUSTON - A hidden heart defect is killing dozens of "healthy-looking" high school athletes every year. However, researchers in Houston are on the verge of a breakthrough cure to stopping this tragedy.
On May 6, 2012, just one day after his senior graduation party, 6-foot-9, 290-pound Cody Stephens died from a hidden heart defect no one knew he had.
The defect is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and it's the No. 1 killer of young athletes on the athletic field.
"I know that Cody is with Jesus," said Cody's mom, Melody Stephens.
Now, someone is doing something about this deadly disease that kills so many, with no warning or symptoms.
Researchers at the Texas Heart Institute, in a landmark study, are testing a drug already approved to treat cystic fibrosis with a very low cost, over the counter drug that doesn't even require a prescription. It could cure hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
The drug is N-Acetylcysteine or NAC and it's commonly used as an anti-oxidant to treat patients with Cystic Fibrosis because of its ability to break down mucus in the body.
Tests on monkeys and rabbits show that NAC helped reduce thickening of the heart muscle and fibrosis in the heart tissue.
"We took those animals and treated them with N-Acetylcysteine, and when we do that hypertrophy or thickening of the heart and scar tissue in the heart go away," said Dr. Marian.
Marian says if this drug works as well in human beings and is approved for use with heart patients, it could save 35 million people worldwide.
Cody's dad is amazed at the prospects for hope and healing with this drug.
"Can you imagine? To think we could get to the point where you take a pill that fixes your heart that blows me away," said Cody's father.
Human trials are starting at the Texas Heart Institute. The first study will involve 75 people.
As for when this drug could be marketed and sold to treat heart patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, that is still at least two to three years away.
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