Statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services reveal that an average of 18 people die while waiting for organ transplants each day. About 2,500 hearts are available, with a waiting list of about 100,000 patients in need.
"I couldn't walk, or breathe, or eat," said Allan Isaacs, a congestive heart failure patient.
That was life with congestive heart failure for Isaacs, 71, but after a left ventricular assist device was implanted into his chest, Allan's life got moving again.
Allan said he now does "15 minutes on the elliptical and about 30 minutes on the treadmill."
The LVAD helps pump oxygen rich blood throughout the body, but Isaacs' recovery may also have to do with the fact that his treatment may have included injections of his own bone marrow stem cells.
Isaacs is taking part in a leading edge blind study at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.
“We isolate the stem cells and when they go for surgery we inject those cells on the heart wall,” said Dr. Ganesh Raveendran, director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.
One-third of the patients receive a placebo, the rest get 10 injections of stem cells into their hearts. Muscle tissue is then analyzed to "see whether these cells have made any meaningful change, whether the cells have transformed into cardiac muscle," Raveendran explained.
In many cases an LVAD is a bridge to transplant, but researchers and Isaacs hope this stem cell therapy could eliminate that need.
"Now, I can do whatever I feel like doing," Isaacs said.
The research team at the University of Minnesota Medical Center hopes to wrap up the study by end of this year and collaborate on a multi-center study involving seven medical centers throughout the nation.