With the hope of extending his stay in this world a little longer, Dick has finished a journey of a lifetime; a trip to the opposite end of the world and back.
The 70 year old Dick received treatment with a new procedure in which adult stem cells extracted from his own blood were injected directly into his ailing heart to strengthen it. A heart specialist in Bangkok, Thailand, performed the procedure on September 26th. Prior to Dick’s operation, the Bangkok Heart Institute had only done 80 of these operations.
Accompanied by his son Dusti, the two of them stayed in Bangkok for almost four weeks as Dick underwent and recovered from the process.
Gaining strength and in good spirits, Dick returned home on October 10th. He is hoping the operation will give him more energy and extend his life by rejuvenating his heart.
“Things weren’t going well,” says Dick.
He still loves to go inline skating, play golf, and is a life long athlete. But as a child, he was afflicted with rheumatic fever twice. His heart was weakened, and after getting two artificial valves and then a pacemaker during operations in recent years, he suffered a stroke this spring on a golf course in Florida. Dick’s heart was only functioning at about 11 percent of its total capacity by late summer.
“For the last year or so my dad’s been talking about having the stem cell procedure done,” Dusti said. “He had read articles and was fascinated with it. Finally we were to the point where his cardiologist in Springfield said we had done all we can. My dad had had two mechanical valves and a pacemaker put in. Things weren’t going well at all.”
Three out of the four Bangkok doctors that Dick asked to perform the procedure on him, refused, due to his age and frailty. There are two types of procedures done – a direct injection where they are injected directly into the heart, or a coronary procedure where stem cells injections are administered directly into the arteries.
Dick was accepted and approved for the direct injection procedure by a Bangkok cardiologist named Dr. Permyos. The next step was making the 30-hour flight to Bangkok on September 15th.
After blood was drawn and the stem cells harvested, the doctors began administering the injections. It was not easy due to a large quantity of scar tissue surrounding his heart from past surgeries.
“Normally they do 10 injections, but mine took 30,” Dick said. “The operation normally takes about 15 minutes, but for me it was over two hours.”
For now, the Watson family is encouraged by Dick’s continued recovery. Just before the surgery he weighed 96 pounds and now he has gained another 15. Three times a week, he goes to physical therapy sessions in Galesburg. He should have a better idea as to how his body is handling the cells injected into his heart in late December, three months after the surgery. According to his doctors, his heart should be working at a about a 21 percent rate at the three month mark – this would be considered a success.
“We were very optimistic,” Dusti said. “Before we went, he felt he was at the point where he was sitting around at his home with his head down, very tired. We felt he was down to a month or two left to live. He was not doing well at all, but we were very optimistic. They told us there was a 10 percent chance of death from the procedure and that there was no guarantee this procedure will work. But they said of the 80 procedures they’d done, it had been effective on 85 percent on them.”
Now, within a days drive all over the Midwest, Dusti is back at his job fixing pipe organs. The third-generation family company, Watson Pipe Organ Sales and Service, was started by his grandfather in 1929. Dick is retired from the company, but Dusti still works on about 95 organs regularly. The normal routine is starting to settle in. Dusti and his wife Julie, along with their two children met up with Dick and his wife Patti for pizza a week ago.
“I think (this procedure) is remarkable,” Dusti said. “There are other methods of harvesting stem cells but when they come from your own blood, the compatibility issues would be great.”
The procedure is the future of cardiac treatment said Dick’s doctors.
“Though stem cell procedures still are not commonly done, people like me will help change it,” Dick said. “I think it will cut way down on heart transplants.”
Dick’s attitude and faith have been helpful with his recovery.
“He has a very strong faith and always had a very positive attitude,” Dusti said. “He knew thousands of people were praying for him and he was so grateful. Every day I’d read the comments people would post on the Web site. I think a strong faith and a positive attitude are paramount. It definitely helped him. I know as he gets stronger he hopes to share his story with people to help them.”