Researchers say supersaturated oxygen could help prevent heart attack damage

Clinical trial underway at Beaumont Hospital

By Sarah Mayberry, M.P.H. - Producer

ROYAL OAK, Mich. - When you're having a heart attack, every second counts.  Some cutting edge care doesn't hurt either.

Michael King, 58, of Bloomfield Township, Mich., said his heart attack came out of the blue.  He was home with his wife, waiting for a furniture delivery, when the symptoms suddenly started.

"I got a very strong pain in my chest.  Initially thought I could get through it, that it would pass," said King. 

But his symptoms quickly got worse.

"Pains that ran down both arms, tingly, I was perspiring very heavily, turning bright red.  I had shortness of breath," said King.  "My wife thought better of the whole situation and decided to call for an ambulance.  I didn't argue with her."

King was rushed to the emergency room at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

"At one point, I heard the phrase 'widowmaker,'" said King.  "That really took my attention and frankly, the speed with which they got me upstairs and out of the emergency room, I knew it was something to be concerned with."

Doctors quickly determined King had a blockage in the left anterior descending artery of his heart.  It's a type of heart attack nicknamed "the widowmaker" because it's often deadly.  But King had time and technology on his side.

Hyperbaric oxygen chambers have been used for many years to improve healing from burns and wounds.  Now researchers are applying a similar concept to the heart, using a therapy that was developed in Detroit.

"We've been involved with this technology for about ten years as part of our research work looking at new therapies to reduce the amount of damage in patients having a heart attack," said Dr. Simon Dixon, chair of Beaumont Health System's department of Cardiovascular Medicine.

Dixon is the lead researcher for a clinical trial to see if oxygen can help reduce the damage caused by large heart attacks.

For a blockage like King's, doctors use angioplasty to open the blocked artery and insert a stent to keep it open.  But some patients still suffer significant damage to the heart muscle. because of the lack of oxygen.

Researchers think something called SSO2 Therapy, or supersaturated oxygen therapy, can help change that.

"The supersaturated oxygen helps the heart muscle to heal and reduce permanent injury to the heart.  The high levels of oxygen appear to improve healing," said Dixon.

To Star Wars fans, the machine may look a little like R2D2, but this high-tech helper mixes the patient's blood with oxygen and saline, giving it a very high oxygen content.  The blood is then returned to the patient's main heart artery through a small catheter for 60 minutes.

Doctors asked King if he wanted to participate in the research.  He was the second patient at Beaumont to receive the supersaturated oxygen therapy.

"I said, 'Absolutely, I'll be a part of that,'" said King.  "One for me, for my health going forward.  And knowing all the research that's done here at the hospital, I thought would be very important to be a part of it."

Beaumont is one of just four centers across the country enrolling patients in this clinical trial.  It is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration and may not be suitable for all heart attack patients.  The treatment seems to be most promising for patients suffering a large heart attack affecting the front wall of the heart. 

Previous research found patients who received the supersaturated oxygen therapy had a 25 percent reduction in heart attack size.  

"I'm very excited about this therapy because it's the only therapy that we've tried in the past two decades that's been proven in humans to help heart muscle recover," said Dixon.

Tests show King's heart is recovering well. 

"Really incredible function for a patient who had such a large heart attack just a few weeks earlier," said Dixon.

King said he's feeling great and grateful, for his care and his wife's quick call for help.

"Very, very thankful that she had the fortitude to go ahead and make the phone call," said King.

To learn more about supersaturated oxygen therapy, click here.

For more information about the Beaumont study, call 248-898-0315.

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