Cardiac Anecdotes

A study featuring a new procedure in heart-attack intervention made the rounds in the news media last week. Dr. Feliz Zijlstra, of the University Medical Center...

A study featuring a new procedure in heart-attack intervention made the rounds in the news media last week. Dr. Feliz Zijlstra, of the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands, directed a study that suggests more patients will survive a major heart-attack if a mini-vacuum is used to suction out a dangerous clot before a stent is inserted in the affected artery.

My heart attack, which was labeled mild-to-moderate in its final evaluation, occurred the way most do. I had plaque buildup, the plaque burst and a blood clot formed in my left anterior descending artery, known in the vernacular as the “Widow Maker.’’

I still feel I was lucky to survive, my three strents — two were placed in arteries other than the LAD which were 70 percent blocked - appear to be doing their jobs and, nearly 20 months later, I am thrilled with the way I feel.

After what I went through, however, any new development certainly attracts my interest. I hold out hope that someday the heart muscle I lost July 20, 2006, will someday be replaced by new muscle. But that’s a story for another day.

For the present, I find the theory of using a mini-vacuum fascinating. The theory is the device makes certain no fragments of a clot or plaque are left in an artery. During angioplasty, residue of a clot of plaque a small balloon is used to compress a blockage and restore blood flow.

The study, which included 1,071 heart-attack patients in 2005-06, produced some results that were favorable to the mini-vacuum:

• Fifty-five percent of the patients who had blockages removed with the mini-vacuum had a heart attack stopped in its tracks as compared to 44 percent receiving conventional angioplasty and stent insertion.

• Among those treated conventionally, 26 percent had little or no blood flow from the affected artery, compared to only 17 percent who had the blockage removed.

• Over the following 30 days, the mortality rate of the group with the poorest blood flow was 5 percent, those with the better blood flow just 1 percent. The former group also had more serious complications.

No doubt these findings with the new procedure will foster debate. The mini-vacuum has been adopted in The Netherlands, but has yet to be tried in the United States. The procedure is gaining some boosters in the United States.

Heart-attack treatment demands fast action in clearing clots. Such intervention is getting better and better and dropping heart-attack death rates lower and lower. Patient, emergency crews and cardiologists are constantly and accurately reminded time is of the essence.

The mini-vacuum might add a bit more time to treatment in crucial moments. Some will ask if its potential is worth spending the extra time. Yet, to a person in cardiac recovery, any development that shows promise is one to pay attention to.