Saved by his cat, heart attack survivor is first Toronto patient in a groundbreaking cell therapy trial

Nurses called him a celebrity, but Robert Clark said, Nah. He wasnt interested in fame or anticipating fortune, but he gladly took the free cab ride home from the hospital.

After a severe heart attack five weeks ago, the 67-year-old has become the first Toronto patient to enter a groundbreaking cell therapy trial led by researchers at St. Michaels Hospital and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

In a world first, the Canadian study uses genetically enhanced stem cells to repair damaged muscle in heart attack survivors. The souped-up cells are the patients own, made young and healthy again fountain-of-youth style in a laboratory. Cell therapy researchers across the globe are monitoring the study, cautiously optimistic that it could lead to a breakthrough the field has long been waiting for.

We all have, circulating in our blood, stem cells that have the potential to repair and regenerate damaged tissues. In people with risk factors for heart disease or in patients who have suffered a heart attack, these cells dont have the same healing capacity, says Dr. Michael Kutryk, a cardiologist at St. Michaels and principal investigator on the study.

The strategy we are using is to restore the bodys own mechanisms to help fix the heart.

The trials first Toronto patient was having a little rest on his couch on April 28 when he started to feel funny.

OK, so I was petting my cat, Clark recalls, and all of a sudden she went meow, meow, meow, and jumped right on my chest, right?

As he tells the story in his 5th-floor Upper Beach apartment, Clark gets down on his hands and knees and yanks Geisha the cat out from under a small cot. Shes a beautiful tabby with saucer eyes as bright and clear a shade of green as her owners are blue.

Clark is not saying the cat gave him a heart attack. Quite the opposite, actually.

She was warning me that something was wrong, he says solemnly, cradling Geisha in his skinny, tattoo-covered arms. (These are older than you are, he says of the faded green ink blots, and its true.)

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Saved by his cat, heart attack survivor is first Toronto patient in a groundbreaking cell therapy trial

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