Ian Rosenberg was 66 years old when his heart began to fail. He was soon unable to climb stairs and struggled breathing. He was diagnosed with heart failure and was given two months to live.
His wife Jenifer says, “he’d had heart problems before, but you never think your heart will fail, you really don’t, and your sixties is not old-age. When he couldn’t breathe, it was a complete shock.”
Ian and Jenifer Rosenberg were given two options: he could be put on the waiting list for a heart transplant in the UK, or go to Germany to participate in a stem cell trial on damaged heart muscle.
“When we heard about the trials in Germany, we didn’t think twice about going,” says Jenifer. “He had the treatment and, within a few weeks, Ian’s difference was unbelievable. After about a month, you could see an improvement, the biggest being he could walk up the stairs and not be out of breath. It was amazing.”
The stem cell procedure involves doctors taking bone marrow from the patient, isolating the stem cells, and injecting the stem cells into the damaged heart tissue. Because these cells are taken from the patient’s own body, there is a much smaller risk of the patient’s body rejecting the injection.
Ian’s stem cell treatment—along with many others—was a success and gave him three extra years of life. Unfortunately, the procedure was not available in the UK due to a lack of funds, and Ian was inspired to change that.
“He thought it was wrong you had to go abroad to pay for a treatment from which others like him would benefit in a big way. He wanted to make it available to everyone. So he asked his doctors: ‘How much do you need to make this happen?’ They said £6.5 million, and he said: ‘I’ll get it for you.'”
In 2004, the Rosenbergs raised enough money to create the Heart Cells Foundation, a charity that funds these stem cell trials in the UK.
“The concept of it happening in a NHS hospital and being financed by a charity is unique,” explains Jenifer. “But it’s working. It means we will now be able to treat patients throughout the UK who have a heart condition, where there’s no alternative treatment, with their own stem cells. It’s our goal for this to be a normal NHS procedure, so everyone who has a heart problem will be able to [benefit from this].”
In 2006, Ian passed away from heart failure at the age of 70. Jenifer says “he would be so thrilled” about the progress and impact their charity has made.
“It’s like he’s still here, all around us. It’s wonderful, really. If it wasn’t for him being ill, going to Germany and coming back so annoyed, none of this would have ever happened.”