Research tied to 9/11 first responders save man’s life

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:
Roger Grad appeared to be in great health but doctors were able to use research to save his life.

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 times a week, but his doctor told him…

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

Dr. Michael Savona suspected cardiovascular disease but standard tests revealed nothing. However, he had studied the blood of 9/11 first 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 and 30 percent of his blood cells had one mutation and 30 percent of his cells had another mutation, both of which we know increase your risk for vascular disease,” Savona said.

Grad did have a high hematocrit, extra red blood cells that can be related to mutations. He also had tet two 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. If your cells divide enough, sooner or later, there’s gonna be an error that doesn’t get fixed,” Savona said.

Grad needed an open heart bypass.

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

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

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

More than 20 years later, 9/11 first responders are still saving lives.

Savona said, throughout the world, there are biorepositories where blood samples like the ones from 9/11 responders are stored. He said it’s important because doctors can go back to Vanderbilt’s repository, called Chive, which is one of the most advanced, and study potential outcomes of genetic mutations like Grad’s.

So research from these studies continues to help others.

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