Man’s heart healed by stem cell therapy and love of an old flame – Leeds Live

A Wakefield man has shared the story of how his broken heart was fixed following a chance encounter with an old flame who was looking after him in hospital.

Fitness fanatic Barry Newmans heart was working at just 13% capacity and had him fearing for his life before fate stepped in with a revolutionary medical procedure and an old girlfriend.

At one point Barry was a shell of his former self and a heart transplant looked like the only viable solution.

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But after coming across a new procedure on The One Show he underwent surgery at a private clinic and his heart is now operating at double its former capacity, with one doctor saying he was a "walking miracle".

By chance, one of the people caring for Barry at Leeds General Infirmary was cardiac physiotherapist Nicki Simpson an old flame from their clubbing days in the 1980s.

Their love was quickly reignited and Barry soon popped the question, though it did result in a moment of awkwardness.

When he declared he had something to announce, Nicki feared he had yet more bad news about his health.

But then plasterer Barry smiled and, from behind his back, pulled out a ring with a large diamond in it.

Speaking to The Mirror, Mr Newman said: Nicki had been my cardiac physio since just after I was first diagnosed with my heart condition, so she knew better than anyone what shed be committing to if she said yes.

But within an instant she gave me a massive hug and kiss and said shed love to be my wife.

With Mr Newman's heart failure, the couple feared they might be on borrowed time.

But Barry, 54, would have another lucky break after chancing upon a revolutionary stem cell procedure that has already doubled his hearts capacity to 26% of normal function.

And that means he and Nicki can think about setting a wedding date next year.

Their remarkable love story goes back to their teenage days. Though they eventually drifted apart, an unlikely reunion came after Barry fell ill in late 2013.

After years priding himself on his healthy lifestyle, he began feeling short of breath, to the point of falling to his knees.

He was prescribed antibiotics but the problem persisted. In February 2014 a CT scan showed he had a massive, dilated heart and critical condition cardiomyopathy.

Doctors said it had likely been caused by a virus and his heart was working at a fraction of its usual capacity.

Barry said: I was told the only real solution was a heart transplant.

I was transferred to Leeds General Infirmary for what was basically palliative care to keep me alive as long as possible.

Compared to just a year before, I felt like my body was broken, all my strength was gone and I feared Id not see my son Robert graduate.

Barry had ongoing care from a cardiac nurse and, towards the end of 2014, was told he would also have the support of a cardiac physiotherapist.

He says: I was amazed when that person turned out to be Nicki, an old girlfriend from our clubbing days in the 1980s.

Wed been an item when we were 19. We drifted apart and I hadnt seen her since.

As soon as the pair clapped eyes on one another, their old spark was back even with Barry so terribly unwell.

We hit it off straight away, laughing at all the old memories, he says. In no time we were a couple again, almost three decades later.

Of course she knew this was a rather precarious situation for me as well as us as a couple.

But that didnt bother her one bit.

With professional and emotional support from Nicki, 54, Barry had a defibrillator fitted in his chest in 2016 which would restart his heart if it ever lost rhythm.

He has remained realistic throughout and says: I knew this was just another strategy to keep me alive until I reached crisis point and could be put on the transplant list.

I got progressively worse, to the point where every time I ate anything Id go grey and collapse and would have to be rushed to A&E.

This happened so many times I got to know all the nurses and porters at the hospital by first name.

Then in October 2017, Barry and his son saw a jaw-dropping report about work by the Heart Cells Foundation charity on TVs The One Show that would change the course of his life.

The innovative procedure involved taking bone marrow from the patients pelvis, harvesting stem cells, then injecting them straight into the heart.

With his "heart nearing its end", Barry instantly got his son Robert to contact the charity and its lead clinician, Professor Anthony Mathur.

Barry said: It seemed such a quick and painless procedure."

The foundation treats patients who are at the end-stage of life, and in November 2018 Barry underwent week-long treatment in London.

After a series of injections to stimulate the bone marrow, the procedure was carried out on the last day.

Barry said he was staggered by its apparent simplicity and how a routine op two months later showed how it was already working.

He says: It couldnt have been less painful.

I was booked in for a small operation in January 2019 and the anaesthetist said because of my heart he was hesitant about putting me under. I did a treadmill test to see how strong my heart was and the doctor said I was a walking miracle my results didnt match with my records.

Barry says he has since gone from strength to strength. He adds: While some cardiologists Ive spoken to are still cynical about my stem cell procedure, the facts speak for themselves.

My heart is now at 26% capacity, Im not taking all the various meds I was prescribed before, I can exercise properly, and feel amazing.

Before my procedure one of my worst fears was my amazing dad would have to go to my funeral, something no parent should ever have to do.

Sadly, I lost him in 2020 after a cancer battle, but I was so grateful he didnt have to watch me reach the end, to bury his own son. I also got to see Robert, 25, graduate in aeronautical engineering from Sheffield University, going on to work for a Formula 1 team and Nicki and I are planning our wedding next year.

This miraculous stem cell treatment hasnt just saved my life, its given me and my family a future, which is priceless.

Barry is among nearly 400 Brits who have received the treatment in its early phase and the success rate is 80%.

Patients typically experience improved heart function and a better quality of life with no further use of medication. Now doctors hope it could change the lives of countless more people. The procedure costs up to 10,000 a go and is not currently available on the NHS.

Learn more at heartcellsfoundation.com

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Man's heart healed by stem cell therapy and love of an old flame - Leeds Live

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