Herald JournalHerald Journal, April 12, 2004

After 3 failed bypass surgeries, Weber is trying something new

By Starrla Mathews

After three failed bypass surgeries, 15 angioplasties and three stints, Charles Weber of rural Winsted decided to try something new for his heart condition.

As a participant in a 15-year study using an experimental procedure, Weber – who suffers from angina pectoris – is helping researchers find out if this application of gene therapy can safely stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in the heart.

“I had to go through tests first,” he said. “You have to fail the test good,” he said.

One part of the test is exercising on a treadmill. “I had heart pain after exercising not even three minutes. It would hurt so bad,” Weber said.

Originally, the study was to include 450 participants nationwide. “Only 416 passed,” said Weber. “One out of eight got in that they tested. They know if you’re faking it.”

Of the participants, some were given a placebo. Other patients either received a low or high dose of the study product.

“It’s a blind study. Your doctor doesn’t even know which dose you’ve been given,” Weber said. “I kind of think I got it, but I don’t know. I’m one of the few that are showing improvement.”

Weber had his first heart surgery in 1976, when he was only 38 years old. The operation lasted 12 hours. Weber almost died during the surgery, and he recalls having an out of body experience.

“I could see them working on me. I could hear them yelling and swearing,” he said. “I was up high above the people. The anesthesiologist, a little Spanish guy, was swearing like hell.”

His second heart surgery took place 10 years later.

In March 2003, Weber went under the knife for the third time.

“I’m still scared when I have surgery, no matter how many times I go through it,” he said.

“The third one only lasted two hours, though. I had it at 7 a.m., and that night, I was able to eat supper. So far, the doctors have done a wonderful job. I trust them. If it turns out badly, that’s one of the risks you take.”

In May, when it was discovered that surgery had failed again, Weber asked his doctor, Margaret Beahrs, about the study. “It seemed like the best option,” he said.

Weber said that one of the most challenging things about his condition is not being able to do physical activity.

Before 1988, Weber was a dairy farmer, milking about 70 head of cattle. He owns land, which he rents out now.

“I’d like to be out there driving tractor,” he said. After the first surgery, “I planted corn. That was the wrong thing to do. I rested more after the second surgery,” he said.

“I have good neighbors. They all helped out,” he said. “It hurts when you see it being done, but when you can go back and help, someone else, that is so much fun.

“I used to work 20 hours a day,” he said. “I have that ‘type A’ personality. I have to keep going until I drop.”

The weather also affects his condition. “I have to stay inside when it’s over 85 degrees, and when it’s cold I’m not supposed to breathe in the air. You learn not to shovel snow anymore,” he said. “There are so many things you’d like to do but can’t when you hurt.”

Despite the difficulties he has endured, Weber remains optimistic.

“I finally got used to knowing I can’t be out there,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are worse off than I am. I can do a lot more now,” he said. “I have to work on getting my muscles back.”

Weber has many hobbies that he enjoys doing indoors. “I collect tractors, and I work on and rebuild computers,” he said.

A web site that Weber highly recommends is http://heart-surgeon.com. Someone could spend hours there, looking up information, he said.

He has been a member of the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School Board for eight years. He also enjoys spending time with his dogs and 28 grandchildren.

“They keep you busy,” he said. Weber and his wife Rosemary also have nine children, Carrie, Brenda, Kathi, Kelly, Steve, Todd, Mike, Gene, and Brad.

Weber is thankful that he is able to participate in this study, and said he is excited about the results, so far.

“It’s helped me,” he said. “Last year, I had a hard time walking a block.”

He said that although improvement is slow, it is noticeable. “I made over three minutes on the treadmill last time,” he said.

“When you go to bed at night, you thank the Lord you had a day,” he added.

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