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Heart Health Center

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Stem Cells Healing Hearts

Two men in landmark heart stem cell study tell their stories.

Rare Opportunity continued...

Walking had become difficult. His ashen color and frequent sweating alarmed his wife, Shirley, a 67-year-old retired nurse. "I was very concerned," she says. "I knew that I wasn't going to have him long if something didn't happen."

Often, Jones relied on nitroglycerin to ease his chest pain, which struck after even a little exertion. Before the stem cell trial, he says, "I wasn't capable of doing much of anything. I could be playing a game of Internet checkers and get chest pain. There's not much to moving the mouse and clicking."

After seeing the article, he called the University of Louisville right away to volunteer. At first, his wife had mixed feelings, since this specific type of stem cell experiment had never been done in humans. But she came to trust her husband's judgment, she says.

Both grasped the seriousness of his heart disease. "I knew things were winding down, so it just came at the right time," Jones says.

A Former Athlete Struggles

Meanwhile, Dearing, 72, a standout football player in his youth, struggled to understand his weakness and shortness of breath. "My first inkling of having heart problems was when I couldn't breathe very well. I thought I was out of shape," Dearing says.

Often, he felt wiped out, "as if I had run wind sprints," he says. "That's how you feel. Your legs are gone, you're bending over, leaning on your knees, you're out of breath and you're tired."

After he fared poorly on a treadmill stress test, doctors performed a cardiac catheterization and found four blocked arteries. "That's when I first knew I had a big heart problem," he says. Heart disease runs in his family, having affected both of his parents. Three of his siblings have already had bypass surgery or stents.

Doctors told Dearing that they also saw evidence of a couple of previous heart attacks, although he wasn't aware of them. He also had heart failure.

When he told his wife, Sharon, 69, the news explained a lot. During 46 years of marriage, Sharon had always known Jim to be a vigorous man. But lately, he had seemed much more tired. "He always did a lot of work around the house -- yard work, painting, and that kind of thing -- and it got so that he would put it off," she says. "I thought it was just age."

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