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Health Spotlight: 9/11 first responders are still saving lives

Health Spotlight: 9/11 first responders are still saving lives

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — New York and Nashville researchers studied blood cell mutations in 9/11 first responders and determined some cells were cloning out of control and causing cardiovascular disease.
Thanks to this research, an exercise fanatic discovered he had underlying and extensive heart disease.

Roger Grad exercises 90 minutes a day, five days a week.

“My doctor told me ’you look like you’re in absolutely perfect physical shape, perfect health, and you should be dead,’” said Grad.

Doctor Michael Savona, director of hematologic research at Vanderbilt University, suspected cardiovascular disease, but standard tests showed nothing. However, he had studied the blood of 9/11 responders to see how certain genetic mutations could trigger cardiovascular disease by replicating out of control.

“I looked at some genetic screening and found mutations in his blood cells,” said Savona. “30% of his blood cells had one mutation and 30% of his cells had another mutation, both of which we know increase your risk for vascular disease.”

Roger did have high hematocrit — extra red blood cells that can be related to mutations. He also had TET2 cells, which cause disease. These clonal hematopoietic cells trigger inflammation and heart attacks.

“These gene mutations that occur as you age, and these mutations are naturally occurring, just because of math,” said Savona. “If your cells divide enough, sooner or later there’s gonna be an error that doesn’t get fixed.”

Roger needed an open-heart bypass.

“I don’t know how to repeat it enough – I had no symptoms,” said Grad.

But he was at critical risk for a heart attack because his arteries were blocked nearly 100 percent.

“Having a bypass probably saved his life, and helped him avoid having a heart attack during one of his workout routines,” said Savona.

9/11 first responders are still saving lives!

Savona says, throughout the world, there are bio-repositories where blood samples, like the ones from 9/11 responders, are stored.

He says it’s important because doctors can go back to Vanderbilt’s biorepository called CHIVE, and study potential outcomes of genetic mutations like Roger’s, so research from these studies can continue to help others.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.