First stem cell surgery for heart patients start at London Chest Hospital

Jesse Freeman, 72, back home with wife Christine

Jesse Freeman, 72, back home with wife Christine - Credit: Archant

Granddad Jesse Freeman got to his 72nd today thanks to a new ground-breaking surgery where his own stem cells were injected into his heart after recovering from cardiac arrest.

He is one of the first of two heart-attack victims ever to undergo surgery in a Europe-wide trial to involve 3,000 patients now getting under way to test if injecting stem cells after a heart attack will prolong life.

The worldwide medical breakthrough was carried out by surgeons at the London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green.

“The surgery was an early birthday present for me—just to be alive,” Jesse told the Advertiser.

“I was never ill in my life, but was indoors and didn’t feel great.

“I had a shower and drove to a medical centre where they found extreme high blood pressure and told me I had had a heart attack.

“I asked if I could drive home, but was told firmly the only way I was leaving was in an ambulance!”

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The next thing the retired Poplar bus garage manager knew was being rushed 10 miles through the streets to the Chest Hospital near Victoria Park from the clinic in Harold Wood.

“I had to leave my car keys behind for my son Neil to pick up,” he recalls. “I was being operated on within 10 minutes of arriving at Bethnal Green—the hospital saved my life.

“I didn’t know I had an attack because there was very little pain. I had a toe nail removed a few years ago which was a lot more painful.”

It was while in recovery from his emergency operation when surgeons asked if he would take part in the stem cell trial. He readily agreed.

Tiny incisions were made without general anaesthetics to take bone marrow, then injected back through veins into his heart.

Using the body’s own stem cells reduces risk of rejection and speeds recovery. Both Jesse and the other patient, Neal Grainger, 54, were up and about in two days.

The procedures carried out by consultant cardiologist Anthony Mathur have started the world’s largest-ever trial of adult stem cell therapy, involving 10 countries.

Prof Mathur said: “We are now ready after two years to accept patients for studies to tell us if stem cells from bone marrow can repair damaged hearts.”

The trial is led by Barts Health NHS Trust with Queen Mary College in Whitechapel and University College London, who believe the procedure could increase survival rates by one-in-four patients.