Ernie Lively moved to a scenic home in the mountains of Wasatch County to escape the hectic pace of Hollywood when he retired.
The actor, who resides in Heber City with his wife Elain has credentials that include a long list of TV and film appearances, including Passenger 57 and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants — the latter that he starred in with his daughter, Blake.
But retirement didn’t provide Lively with the active lifestyle he craved because of simple reality: His heart was failing. He’d suffered a massive heart attack in 2003, which left him functioning on half a healthy heart. As time marched on, his ejection fraction — the measurement of the percentage of blood leaving the heart each time it contracts — continued to decline.
The condition left Lively without energy. Miles away from some of the world’s best ski resorts, an envious Lively watched skiers from the sidelines, unable to participate in an activity he once loved. He barely had energy to walk up the 45 steps of his home without needing to stop — or take a significant rest afterwards.
“I live here because of the outdoor life, and I couldn’t enjoy it,” said Lively, 66. “I didn’t have enough energy to do much of anything.”
Frustrated with his quality of life, Lively connected with Amit Patel, M.D., director of Clinical Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering and an associate professor in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Lively became a patient of Patel’s in February, when Patel saved Lively’s life after a complication with an angiogram left the actor with a severed aorta and problems with his coronary arteries. During the journey of his heart health issues, Lively peppered Patel with questions about one idea for helping to heal his ailing heart: stem cell therapy.
This month, Lively got his wish when he became the first patient in the world to undergo retrograde gene therapy at University of Utah Hospital, a novel procedure designed to deliver stem cells to the heart to repair damaged muscle and arteries in the most minimally invasive way possible.