First-ever drug for rare form of heart failure helps man thrive after cardiac arrest

September 29 is World Heart Day. Meet a 76-year-old man who is able to continue his journey as a motivational speaker, thanks to a first-of-it's-kind drug for a rare heart disease.

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CLEVELAND – Stephen Sroka, 76, knows how to captivate an audience.

A public speaker and adjunct assistant professor, Sroka, devotes his time to teaching others about the ‘Power of One’ – how one person can make a difference.

But, after suffering from sudden cardiac arrest during a speaking event, Sroka was on a medical transport flight to Cleveland Clinic when he realized it would take the power of a whole team to save him.

“I was barely conscious, but kept thinking – I’ve got it all wrong,” said Sroka. “For decades, I’ve talked about the Power of One person to make a difference. But the Power of One wasn’t going to save me that day. If these other people don’t step up, I’m dead.”

The team who helped save him includes two school resource officers who rushed to begin first aid when he collapsed during the speech, the school principal who was recently trained in and used an automated external defibrillator (AED) to restore his heartbeat, and a team at Cleveland Clinic, especially the physician Sroka calls his “personal hero,” Mazen Hanna, M.D.

Dr. Hanna, a cardiologist, learned Sroka was suffering from the ATTR form of cardiac amyloidosis, a disease in which protein is deposited in the heart and causes it to malfunction. As no treatment for it existed, other than a heart transplant, Dr. Hanna encouraged Sroka to join a clinical trial (for which he served as lead investigator) with the drug tafamidis.

“Our hope was that patients – like Stephen – would soon have a treatment option,” said Dr. Hanna. “We knew it wouldn’t cure the disease, but might slow its progression and improve patients’ survivability and quality of life.”

In late spring of 2019, based on results of the multi-phase trial that included Sroka and hundreds of other patients, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug as the first-ever treatment for the ATTR form of cardiac amyloidosis.

According to the study results, tafamidis was associated with reductions in mortality and cardiovascular-related hospitalizations. It also reduced the decline in functional capacity and quality of life.

Since he has been using the drug, Sroka has continued to live his ‘normal’ life – filled with grueling daily exercise workouts and motivational speeches that take him around the world.

Now back on the speaking circuit, where he strives to help students and educators in dealing with serious issues like drugs and school violence, Sroka has a new message: You have “The Power of One” to start a fire, but you need “The Power of Many” to keep the fire burning.

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