A 67-year-old man who is in seemingly good health: He exercises, gets regular physicals- then like many Americans each year, is told he has a heart blockage and needs a stent.
“In the setting of a heart attack or a threatened heart attack, this is unbelievably effective therapy that is life saving and muscle saving,” says Dr. Richard Chazal, cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.
In this case the patient was former president George W. Bush who in August underwent surgery to unclog a severely blocked artery. About a million stent procedures are performed each year, using a catheter and an angioplasty balloon.
“A coronary artery stent is a small piece of metal that looks like the little spring that you might see out of a ballpoint pen. It’s actually collapsed on a balloon that can be inserted into an artery and then an interventional cardiologist can then find the blockage, deploy the balloon, which stretches that metal stent out. The balloon is collapsed and the catheter and balloon are removed, leaving behind this metallic scalpel which holds the artery open,” says Dr. Chazal.
Going back a few decades, a stent patient spent up to two weeks in the hospital and took months recovering. But times have changed. Like many patients today, the former President went home the day after his stenting procedure.
“Nowadays it can open that artery, it can restore flow, prevent a large amount of damage and a lot of those people are back to work very quickly with no residual disability,” says Dr. Chazal.
The key was early detection- those regular physical exams gave doctors time to defuse a potentially deadly condition.