Old tool has new purpose to fix the heart, surgeons say

New stent is in a fast-tracked FDA study.

Model of a human heart. (KXAN Photo)
Model of a human heart. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Doctors are using an old tool with a new purpose to repair parts of the heart that also cuts the recovery time in half. Unfortunately, it hasn’t hit the market yet.

A newly-designed stent allows doctors to bypass blood vessels when they place it around the aorta, the heart’s main artery.

“My body feels like it’s 60 sometimes,” said 33-year-old Michael Thomas.

The Louisiana-native told KXAN that years of fast fun on the town and home-cooked fried foods took a toll.

“My favorite was always fried pork chops with okra, corn and tomato with sausage in it,” Thomas said.

Add in a long hereditary link to high blood pressure, and poor health finally caught up with him back in May. His chest started tightening after a doctor’s visit one day. He thought he was having a heart attack. Doctors soon diagnosed him with an aortic arch aneurysm. After years of high blood flow and pressure, walls of his aorta were breaking down and bulging out.

“If it gets to a critical size, it could rupture,” said Dr. Mazin Foteh with Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons in Austin. “And if it ruptures, the chances of survival are low.”

Doctors needed to act fast. Dr. Foteh performed Thomas’ surgery. He used a stent that’s been around for nearly 15 years, now with an opening for blood vessels, which cuts down on the severity of the surgery. The newly-designed stent makes the operation minimally invasive.

“We don’t have to open the chest on a number of patients and we don’t have to do these unique bypasses to provide blood flow,” explained Dr. Foteh.

Another perk of this surgery: the recoup time. Researchers say it can take between two days and a week and patients can get back to work.

“Michael’s hospital stay was two days. In fact, he probably could have gone home on post-operative day number one,” the doctor said.

Thomas is the first patient in Austin to get this surgery, thanks to a fast-tracked FDA study on the redesigned stent. So, the new tool hasn’t hit the market yet.

Thomas said he’s now focused on a living a healthier lifestyle. “You know what, I’m going to be 90 and I’m going to be one of the old men in the nursing home that everyone just loves,” he said.

Researchers believe patients most at risk for developing aortic arch aneurysm fall into three categories: they usually have a genetic link to a weakened aortic wall, a too much plaque in the valves of their hearts or prolonged high blood pressure.

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