New treatment in race to save heart attack victims

Treatment helps save heart muscle, keep patients alive

By Aaron Wische - Senior Executive Producer, Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than half a million Americans have their first heart attack every year.

Researchers are now testing a cutting-edge therapy that could limit permanent damage to heart muscles. Patients get supersaturated oxygen therapy, in addition to angioplasty or stents.

Tim France, 59, exercises, eats well and doesn't smoke. Despite all that, one day on the golf course, France began experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.

"As I was walking from the fifth to the sixth hole, you have to walk up a hill, and that's when I felt a pain in my chest. Right in the middle of my chest, and it's like, 'well, this is not good,'" he recalled.

France was rushed into the care of Dr. John Harrington. Harrington included him in a trial of supersaturated oxygen therapy.

"We increase the oxygen content of the blood by five to seven times, and then that is infused back into the patient, directly into the major artery of the heart,” Harrington said.

In early phases of the trial, heart muscle damage dropped by 26 percent.

"The sooner that you open the artery that has been interrupted blood flow, the less damage is done," Harrington said. "I use the analogy of a house fire. The sooner you call the fire department, the sooner the fire is out, the less structural damage is done."

France had MRIs at five and 30 days after the procedure, and his recovery continues to be impressive.

"I feel as well now as I did before the heart attack, and I'm thinking that part of it has to do with that study," France said.

He's also excited to help researchers improve outcomes for first-time heart attack patients like himself.

Research into supersaturated oxygen therapy began in 2002. It's now in a Phase III clinical trial, the last phase before results and data are presented to the Food and Drug Administration. Doctors have treated 86 of the 100 patients they need for the trial. They expect to end the trial in two to three months.

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