Nurse suffering from heart disease gets second chance at life thanks to gene therapy trial at Duke Health

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – A nurse from South Carolina who is suffering from heart disease said she is getting a second chance at life thanks to a new gene therapy trial at Duke Health.

Lisa Collins, 53, has suffered from heart problems since 2012, and she said all the previous treatments she tried before were no longer working.

Collins said it was in April 2012 when she had a heart attack while at work, she was in her early 40s at the time.

“I had been sick all day, I had the classic heart attack symptoms,” Collins said.

Collins underwent triple bypass surgery two weeks after that heart attack. After the procedure, she said doctors told her things didn’t look good for her future.

“My whole life changed, basically they told me to go home and get my affairs in order, and that I wasn’t going to make it,” Collins said. “They had done all they could do for me. I had so many blockages, and my blood vessels were so tiny.”

Collins said this disabled her and she was unable to work full time. She said she suffered from chest pain and shortness of breath.

She then decided to go to Duke Health for another opinion and was able to receive Enhanced External Counterpulsation treatment, where blood pressure devices were put on her legs to get blood flowing.

While she said it worked for a little while, eventually she said she started suffering from the same symptoms again.

“I didn’t have any other options, my options were out,” Collins said.

She then heard about gene therapy trials at Duke Health, for patients suffering from advanced coronary artery disease.

She signed up and was the first patient to participate in what Duke Health is calling the EXACT Trials. During this procedure, a gene is put directly in the heart muscle to enhance blood vessel growth, provide better blood flow, and lessen the symptoms.

“This is for patients who have a lot of plaque buildup in their arteries and who have gotten to a point where the number of blockages that they’ve accumulate is more than we can fix with conventional techniques,” said Tom Povsic, a Duke Health professor of medicine and interventional cardiologist.

Povsic said the conventional techniques include angioplasty and stenting and bypass surgery.
Collins underwent the gene therapy back in June and she came in for her first follow up appointment on Wednesday morning.

“Today I feel pretty good,” Collins said. “The chest pain is almost gone, but I still have some occasionally.”

While Povsic said it’s still too early to tell how successful the gene therapy will be for Collins, she said she is excited to have another chance at life nine years after she was told she might not make it.

“I love life,” Collins said. “I was going to do what I could to live the full life as much as I could.”

Povsic said it will take a year to see how successful the gene therapy will be for Collins.

He said Duke Health is looking for people to volunteer to participate in this trial, as they will be able to allow up to about five people to participate.

Duke Health is only one of a few places across the country offering the gene therapy trial and Povsic said only a total of 33 patients nationwide will participate.

For more information on how to participate, contact the Duke Health News office at 919-684-4148.

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