Experimental heart operation by Indian American doctor saves actor Ernie Lively

Dr. Amit Patel successfully conducted retrograde gene therapy.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: An experimental heart operation performed by renowned Indian American doctor Amit Patel last month saved the life of long-time American film and television actor Ernie Lively.

The 66 year-old Lively underwent a procedure called retrograde gene therapy, a process in which stem cells are injected into the heart in order to stimulate the patient’s own body to repair muscle tissue. The operation, which was the first of its kind to ever be done, is far less invasive than typical heart-oriented procedures, but its novelty meant that it would by default be quite risky.

Lively was forced to resort to this procedure out of desperation, since previous traditional fixes for his heart condition had failed to accurately treat the problem. After suffering a near-fatal heart attack in 2003, Lively’s condition steadily deteriorated until it got to the point where he couldn’t even walk 45 steps outside of his house without having to rest to catch his breath.

He and Patel met in February, when the actor sought out a new physician after having suffered a severed aorta and related coronary artery problems because of a poorly performed angiogram. Patel – the director of Clinical Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering, as well as an associate professor in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Utah School of Medicine – is credited with having saved Lively’s life, and subsequently presented him with options Lively hadn’t had before.

Patel is on the cutting edge of heart treatment, and is in the midst of developing a drug that could prove revolutionary in the fight against heart disease and other cardiac ailments. The drug Patel is working on would essentially introduce a potent dose of a specifically engineered human DNA strand known as SDF-1 into the patient’s body, at which point the DNA would act as a homing beacon that would help the body’s own stem cells target and repair the heart much more effectively than current medications and treatments allow.

While stem cell therapy has been in practice for the better part of a decade, it is not very widespread, and Patel’s procedure is considered a breakthrough for those who champion stem-cell therapy as one of the foremost medical procedures. Lively himself has said that he feels better now than he has in several years, and credits Patel with having changed his life forever.

Patel earned his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Youngstown State University, then his master’s in immunophysiology from the same school. He attended medical school at Case Western Reserve University before completing his internship and residency at Baylor, and his fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh.

Lively began his acting career over 30 years ago, and in that time has appeared in small roles in several Hollywood productions. He is perhaps nowadays best known as the father of actress Blake Lively, who rose to fame with her role in the hit TV series “Gossip Girl,” and who is currently married to fellow Hollywood A-lister Ryan Reynolds.

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