Happy Birthday “Detour” Dave Sandler! Today, Jan. 11, Sandler, WBAL’s longtime traffic reporter, turns 52. When he collapsed on a softball field in August 2009, it was not at all clear that he would live to see another birthday.
“I was ‘clinically dead’ with no pulse and no respiration,” said Sandler. Thankfully, his softball team included a cardiologist and an ophthalmologist. His doctor teammates revived him, and after a series of surgeries and medical interventions, Sandler has been making a slow but successful recovery. On Saturday, Jan. 26, he will be honored at Hadassah of Greater Baltimore’s 7th Annual Cell-A-Brate event.
Cell-A-Brate co-chair Michelle Ressin explained that Sandler was chosen as the honoree because this year’s event will focus on stem cell research and the hope it may offer to heart disease sufferers. In the past, Cell-A-Brate has highlighted the potential of cell stem therapies and their use in the treatment of diseases including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
“The great thing about supporting stem cell research is that it has the potential to help so many — to treat so many different diseases,” said Ressin.
Since its founding by Baltimore-born Henrietta Szold 100 years ago, Hadassah has supported groundbreaking scientific research and advocated for medical advances in Israel and the United States. Hadassah has been a leader in promoting stem cell research as a potential cure for diseases such as ALS, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and hundreds of other rare immune system and genetic diseases. In the United States, where political opposition has raised many obstacles to further research, Hadassah has been a strong voice in educating lawmakers and the public about the research’s potential to save lives.
“As controversial as it is for some people in the United States, it is less controversial in Israel. Stem cell research can do so much good, and research done at Hadassah [Research Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cells] has come so far. We want to leave a better life for our children, and this can give them a better life,” said Cell-A-Brate co-chair Julie Bernstein Weinstein.
“Hadassah Hospital helps everyone regardless of religion, race or background. It’s important to help your own community, but you know, it takes a village. That’s what’s beautiful about Hadassah. You give to them, and they give to everybody,” Bernstein Weinstein added.
“When people think about stem cell research, they usually associate it with other diseases; they don’t consider using the treatment for heart disease. And they aren’t always aware that there can be long-term effects to the heart from cancer treatments,” said Ressin. “So, we really want to educate people about that.”
Sandler’s story serves as a great example of how stem cell treatments might be used to help patients like him and others who suffer from heart disease.
“When I was 20 and a student at University of Maryland, I started having pain in my chest — in my sternum area. A biopsy showed a tumor caused by Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They had to do a procedure that’s no longer done to see if my lymph nodes were affected. They weren’t, so I didn’t need to have chemotherapy. But I did need radiation, and I had it in the spring of 1983,” Sandler recalled
After 10 weeks, Sandler seemed to be in remission, although this wouldn’t be official until five years later.
“I started working at WBAL in 1987. I had follow-up visits with a cardiologist and oncologist, but there was no indication of a problem for 30 years. Then, on Aug. 9, 2009, I was running around the bases, when I collapsed on the field,” recalled Sandler.
As it turned out, four of his main arteries were more than 80 percent blocked. He had quadruple bypass surgery to replace the damaged arteries with arteries from elsewhere in his body. The damage, Sandler learned, was caused by the radiation treatments he had undergone years earlier. The radiation treatments also caused Sandler’s chest tissue to be compromised; he needed another procedure to close his chest. Sandler required several additional surgeries and extensive physical therapy. Today, he noted, there are no approved procedures that can restore his lost or dysfunctional heart muscle tissue. However, Sandler said, there is clear evidence that stem cells may be able to replace damaged heart cells and restore cardiac function.
In order to prevent another life-threatening situation, Sandler had a pacemaker and a defibrillator implanted in his chest. These days, he said, his recovery is pretty much up to him.
“The sky’s the limit. There are no restrictions. I’d say I’m at 75 percent right now. I have to go to the gym, eat well and get enough sleep. And I have follow-up doctors appointments every six months. I think I’ll get close to where I was before.”
Sandler credits his wife, Jody, with helping him to recover. “She went to bat for me in every way, 24 hours a day. She’s superwoman.”