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YOUR HEALTH: Using oxygen to lessen impact of heart attacks

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DALLAS – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 500,000 Americans have their first heart attack every year.

Right now, researchers are testing a cutting-edge therapy that could limit permanent damage to heart muscles.

Patients get supersaturated oxygen therapy, in addition to angioplasty or stents.

It's helped 59-year old Tim France.

He exercises, eats well, and doesn't smoke.

But his life changed one day on the golf course.

"As I was walking from the fifth to the sixth hole, you have to walk up a hill, and that's when I felt a pain in my chest," said Tim.

"Right in the middle of my chest, and it's like, well, this is not good."

Tim was rushed into the care of Doctor John Harrington at Scripps Memorial Hospital, who invited Tim to be part of the supersaturated oxygen therapy trial.

"We increase the oxygen content of the blood by five to seven times, and then that is infused back into the patient, directly into the major artery of the heart."

In early phases of the trial, heart muscle damage went down by 26-percent.

"The sooner that you open the artery that has interrupted blood flow to the muscle, the less damage is done," explained Dr. Harrington.  "I use the analogy of a house fire: the sooner you call the fire department, the sooner the fire is out, the less structural damage is done."

Tim had MRI's at five and thirty days after the procedure.

"I feel as well now as I did before the heart attack, and I'm thinking that part of it has to do with that study."

He's also psyched to help researchers improve outcomes for first-time heart attack patients like himself.

Research into supersaturated oxygen therapy began in 2002.

It's now in phase three clinical trial, the last phase before results and data are put together and presented to the FDA.

Doctors have treated 86 of the 100 patients they need for the trial.   They expect to end the trial in two to three months.

TREATMENT: Supersaturated Oxygen Therapy is currently under investigation as a new emergency treatment to be administered right after a heart attack. "Blood needs to get to the capillaries downstream to supply the muscle," says Frances Wood, M.D., a WakeMed cardiologist. That's what Supersaturated Oxygen therapy is designed to do. A wire mesh stent is placed in the vessel to keep it open and expand the blocked heart artery. Although blood flow is restored in that artery, oxygen in the blood may struggle to fill the tiny capillaries. Hospital saline fills one chamber and is then sprayed into a high concentration of oxygen. Then, it's mixed with the patient's own blood and delivered directly into the coronary artery for one hour. During a heart attack, tiny capillaries swell, restricting blood flow. As those cells absorb the new oxygenated plasma, the swelling shrinks back and improves blood flow to surrounding tissue. Previous clinical trials showed a 26 percent reduction in the size of heart tissue damage compared to patients who received standard care alone.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at