By LISA CAPOBIANCO
When Bristol native Kevin Ouellette was born without an esophagus over 40 years ago, he made medical history.
While only a couple of hours old, Ouellette underwent a surgery that took part of his large intestine and connected it to where he was missing the esophagus—and survived.
“He’s the only one who survived that surgery,” said Ouellette’s mother, Sharon Viel of Bristol.
Post-surgery, Ouellette led a normal life, enjoying hobbies like cooking and fishing.
He married his wife, Janice, in 1992 and had two children, Albert and Jenna. Together they enjoyed various family outings like camping and going on Sunday drives.
But life suddenly changed in an instant when at age 32, Ouellette had a massive heart attack, leading him to undergo triple bypass surgery and months of recuperation.
Since then, Ouellette had two more heart attacks, in addition to battling aspiration pneumonia a couple dozen times and countless hospital stays.
He then hit rock bottom after having a fifth heart attack.
“It wasn’t until I had the last heart attack that it went down hill pretty bad,” said Ouellette, who had to retire from his job as a production manager for a manufacturing company.
Due to the heart attacks and aspiration pneumonias, along with other health issues, Ouellette’s heart is permanently damaged, and now functions at 25 percent. In addition, his lungs now function at 16 percent.
“I didn’t have any breathing apparatuses… four months ago,” said Ouellette, who was diagnosed with COPD.
“His heart…now functions at 25 percent, so it’s not pushing oxygen through his lungs,” said Janice. “That’s a big part of the breathing issues.”
Although his pulmonologist suggested a heart/lung transplant, Ouellette found out from his thoracic surgeon that the transplant would involve removing his esophagus—a type of surgery that has never been performed.
But the Ouellette family never lost hope. Ouellette hopes to receive stem cell therapy to improve his lung function.
After conducting research to find a reputable stem cell therapy center, the Ouellette family came across one in New York City that seems to be promising: Park Avenue Stem Cell Therapy Center.
Founded in 2015, Park Avenue Stem Cell Therapy Center has two board-certified surgeons with over 30 years of medical experience and treats a variety of diseases—from
cardiac/pulmonary to autoimmune to urologic.
The family recently visited the center, which uses fat derived stem cells for deployment and clinical research. According to Park Avenue’s website, autologous stem cells from a patient’s own fat are simple to harvest safely under local anesthesia and are abundant in quantities up to 2,500 times those seen in bone marrow. Once the fat derived stem cells are administered back into the patient, they have the potential to repair human tissue by forming new cells of mesenchymal origin, including cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons, nerve, fat, muscle, blood vessels, and certain internal organs, Park Avenue’s website further explains.
Although stem cell therapy has not yet been approved by the FDA, Ouellette and his family still have faith that this could be the treatment that will heal his lungs.
“It’s still experimental,” said Ouellette. “But…my surgery was experimental when I was a child. Very few children lived through my surgery.”
“We’ve searched over the years to find someone his age that lived for as long as he has, and we have yet to find anybody with other medical problems. His thoracic surgeon in Boston travels all over the place, and he has yet to find somebody that was born like that and has other complications, and is still alive at this age,” said Janice.
“We have a glimmer of hope,” added Sharon.
If all goes according to plan, Ouellette hopes to undergo the therapy by the end of the month or in April. As the procedure is not covered by insurance, Jenna and Albert recently set up a GoFundMe page for their father, whom they also refer to as their “Superman.” To date, the online fundraiser has received over $2,000 in donations. The family also is planning a pasta dinner this Sunday (March 5) at the Bristol Polish Club.
“It’s an ongoing costly [treatment]. He’ll still need treatments after every three months for the first year,” said Janice. “We’ve done a lot of research, and found a lot of patients who have undergone it. We read their thoughts, and it was positive, so we can only hope that it works.”
Although the Ouellette family’s daily lives have changed, their love and support for one another have remained the same inside their Terryville home. One addition to the family that has brightened their day is Ouellette’s six-month-old granddaughter, Sofia—the daughter of Albert and his girlfriend, Emily Kuharski.
“We have a huge support system,” said Janice, adding how her family has received an outpour of support from the community.
“Always stay positive—no matter how bad the situation looks,” said Albert.
The pasta dinner benefit for Kevin Ouellette will take place on Sunday (March 5), 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Bristol Polish Club, 541 North Main St., Bristol. Tickets are available at the door for $15 per adult and $5 per child.
To make a donation, visit www.gofundme.com/ stemcellsforsuperman.