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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Adult Stem Cells Rebuild Alabama Woman's Heart

by Jennifer Mesko, associate editor

Noncontroversial research wins another convert.

Alabama event planner Carron Morrow was hanging Japanese lanterns for a wedding last summer when she suffered her fourth heart attack. A week later, the doctor told the 58-year-old mother of two she was a walking time bomb: The right side of her heart was functioning at less than 50 percent. They tried stents and a defibrillator. Then she was put on the heart transplant list.

"All I could do was cry," she says. "I just thought, 'I'm about to die.' There's 100,000 people waiting for a heart."

By fall, she grew worse.

"I couldn't walk 20 feet without being on somebody's arm," Morrow says. "I couldn't go to the mall. My legs just wouldn't carry me. I knew I had really gotten worse."

Her church rallied around her. "Each time I've had one of these heart attacks, the church has surrounded me in prayer," she says.

'I started praying'

Morrow's nurse from her third heart attack had been researching adult stem-cell therapy and came across a groundbreaking study at the Texas Heart Institute. Her health records were sent to Texas.

"Within a month's time, I was in Texas," she says.

But just 30 people would be admitted to the study: 20 would receive stem-cell therapy, and 10 would receive a placebo.

"I started praying," Morrow says. "They called me at a quarter to five." She would be part of the research that began in Brazil more than a decade ago.

First, she had to sign liability papers for the surgery, which is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"My next choice was just to drop dead, so I signed everything," she says, "and had full confidence in that group."

On Oct. 14, 2006 — her birthday — she went into surgery. Doctors removed about 50cc of bone marrow from her left hip. Then the cells were cultivated. Four hours later, she was back in surgery, where 30 million stem cells were injected into the right side of her heart.

Morrow stayed in Texas for nine days and returned every two weeks through January. A local businessman, for whom she had catered, paid for all of her plane trips.

'I could sing a whole song'

"I knew within two months something was going on," Morrow says. "I could sing a whole song at church."

By December, she "was plating food as hard as any other chef there."

In April, "I had a huge wedding in Jackson, Mississippi. We put in 80 hours that week. My sister said, 'Carron, you know you have the stem cells.' "

The following week in Texas, it was confirmed: "This little bitty envelope had 'stem cell' in it."

This month, she returned to the University of Alabama, where she had received dire news just a year ago. She had another CT scan to see how her heart was functioning.

"The doctor calls and says, 'Ma'am, the right side of your heart is normal.'"

She thought he had the tests messed up and had the report faxed to Montgomery. "I was in la-la land for several days."

PBS featured her on a documentary that aired June 7.

"I told the doctor, 'I don't understand why we have this huge political mess going on about stem cells,'" Morrow says. "I'm living proof that adult stem cells work far better than embryonic. And why should embryonic even be in discussion?

"I'm here to say, 'I'm living proof. It saved my life.'

"I'm just doing great."

She doesn't even need her $85,000 defibrillator anymore. The cost to culture the stem cells, Morrow says: Less than $600. "This is going to revolutionize heart disease.

"This community has been such a strength for me," she says. "I am just so blessed. I feel so undeserving. I am not a perfect person. I just am overwhelmed with how good God is to me.

"I have been given an opportunity … it just blows me away, at how good God is, even when we don't deserve it. I am very, very grateful.

"I hope God lets me shout it from the rooftop, 'Your own stem cells work.'

"I am just so excited about the study of stem cells, the possibilities."



Janet Grace Riehl said...

What I really like about this post is how it shows that stem cell research and faith can go together. This is a great service, in a curious way, to science and scientific research since there are many on the radical right using religion as a barrier to even think about or discuss this topic as anything other than a travesty of nature.

Becky said...

What an incredible story! What a wonderful birthday present Carron received in this process. This is an enlightening testimonial.