DALLAS — Six weeks ago, 64-year-old Larry Rayes could only walk a few steps without resting.
"I could only walk about 20 yards and I got very lightheaded, very dizzy," Rayes said.
Rayes suffers from congestive heart failure, a condition caused by a heart so weak it can't effectively pump blood through his body.
He needs a heart transplant, but until he gets one, Rayes is part of an experiment to see if his heart can heal itself.
In May, at the same time doctors implanted a heart pump in Rayes' chest, his weakened heart also received a series of 20 stem cell injections.
"We're using these stem cells to regenerate the muscle of the heart, so that their hearts can beat more effectively," explained cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Todd Dewey.
Medical City Dallas Hospital is one of only 13 centers involved in a groundbreaking national trial using adult stem cells. The trial involves adult stem cells, not the more controversial embryonic cells. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Heart failure affects nearly five million Americans. Roughly 550,000 people are diagnosed each year. Heart failure is a leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.
"The ultimate goal is to eliminate heart failure in the United States," Dewey said. "To use these cells such that we can repair damaged hearts without having to resort to transplant or LVAD [left ventricular assist device] or other major surgical procedures."
Larry Rayes is the first North Texas patient enrolled in the study.
"We want to make a difference in the world today," said Rayes, who adds that the sacrifices of yesterday's medicine have kept him alive today.
Dewey doesn't know if Larry Rayes got the stem cells or placebo injections. But Rayes said he feels better now than he has in years.
"I'm walking a mile twice a day with no shortness of breath, not stopping," Rayes said. "And it just feels really wonderful and great."
Researchers will really be able to determine if the stem cells did their job when he gets a heart transplant and scientists can study the heart they removed.