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Keeping your Arteries Open with a Stent: December 30, 2011

Mary Kay Belin prides herself on good health. She eats right, exercises and listens to her body.

“This truly was a sort of weight right in the middle of my chest and then it would radiate to my upper arm right here and that felt like a heaviness. It’s as simple as that,” says Mary Kay.

Frequent chest pains sent her to the doctor, where she learned she was one of the millions of Americans with a blocked artery. It was keeping her heart from getting enough oxygen.

“There are some blockages that are better treated with medications and there are some patients with blockage that are better treated with bypass surgery. But certain patients can be very well treated with a stent,” says Dr. Robert Grohowski, a cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

A stent is what he recommended for Mary Kay.

While angioplasty alone opens the artery, too often it simply closes again. So building on that technique, surgeons often add a stent. It’s a mesh tube that expands and keeps the newly inflated artery clear of blockages.

“With a traditional angioplasty that risk of blockage and scar tissue forming at that site could be as high as 30 to 40 percent. With a stent to keep the blockage open and the plaque out of the way, the chance of blockage coming back is reduced to somewhere in the range of 10 to 15 percent with our older stents,” says Dr. Grohowski.

Newer stents are sometimes drug coated to release medication that keeps the body from forming scar tissue.

“Typical stent sizes range from two to four millimeters, so they’re quite small,” says Dr. Grohowski.

Once inserted, the stent stays in place forever. “There’s not a certain amount of time that stent is useful for. We never remove them once they’ve been placed, they’re in forever,” says Dr. Grohowski.

And in Mary Kay’s case, it could be a long time. “My husband has always said to me ‘you’re going to live to be a hundred’,” says Mary Kay.