A Toronto man credits an experimental stem cell therapy being tested at Ontario hospitals for helping him survive COVID-19.
Because of this stem cell treatment, Im sitting with my wife and giving you this interview, says Khurram Kabir.
This winter, Kabir was hooked up to a ventilator at Toronto General Hospital for 24 days. The 40 year old was hospitalized in January. He developed pneumonia, and his condition worsened.
Healthcare workers told his family to expect the worst. His wife, Sumaiya Rais, recalls what they told her: We have to be honest with you, theres a fair chance he might not make it because his lungs are very weak, they might not be able to take another blow, but we are trying.
After 48 hours on ventilation, doctors told Sumaiya that her husband was a good candidate for an experimental treatment for inflamed lungs. She was unsure of what to do, but says a doctor heading the study told her that at worst, nothing would happen, but that the therapy wouldnt hurt Kabir.
Doctors around the world are looking for ways to treat the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 infection.
University Health Networks Dr. John Granton, a respirologist and ICU doctor who is working on the stem cell team, explains that aside from the viruss attacks, the bodys own immune response to COVID-19 can cause damage as well.
That includes COVID-19 pneumonia, and lung inflammation that blocks oxygen from getting to a patients organs. Researchers say cell-based therapies can reduce that inflammation while boosting the positive work of the immune system.
Toronto General Hospitals trial started in November 2020, aided by a donation to the hospital foundation. Their safety trial included 18 people, but is connected to a broader network of researchers and hospitals across Ontario.
Its nice to see patients are feeling better, says Dr. Granton. It gives us hope.
Kabir was released from hospital in mid-March, and went to a rehab facility to re-learn simple tasks. He still has difficulty breathing, and he walks with a cane. He also lost 30 pounds and has other lingering symptoms.
My kidney is high, kreatin level is high, cholesterol is high, he says. Im losing a ton of hair, and Im running out of breath.
UHN has teamed up with other hospitals in the GTA to provide this treatment to even more patients.
Researchers will one day examine if the cell therapy can be used before patients are connected to breathing machines. Kabir and his family say they mostly followed COVID-19 precautions.
They are urging Canadians to take this virus seriously, to avoid going through what they did.
With files from Erick Espinosa
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