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New, non-surgical procedure can repair hearts

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Heart issues that at one time required sawing through the breastbone and opening up the chest for open heart surgery now can be treated with a nip, twist or patch through a tube. This revolutionary approach to heart care has some patients getting repairs for valves, irregular heartbeats, holes in the heart and other defects - without major surgery. Doctors even are testing ways to treat high blood pressure with the new technique.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The new system relies on catheters, i.e. hollow tubes that allow surgeons to burn away and reshape heart tissue or correct defects through small holes into blood vessels.

This is the replacement for the surgeon's knife. Instead of opening the chest, we're able to put catheters in through the leg, sometimes through the arm," Dr. Spencer King of St. Joseph's Heart and Vascular Institute in Atlanta says. King is the former president of the American College of Cardiology.

Furthermore, the new procedure has far less recuperation time for patients. "Many patients after having this kind of procedure in a day or two can go home" rather than staying in the hospital while a big wound heals, King says. The procedure may also lead to far less expensive treatment -- although the initial cost of the new devices often offsets the savings from shorter hospital stays.

However, it must be mentioned that not everyone can have catheter treatment. The devices have hit snags in testing. Others on the market now are so new that it will take several years to see if their results last as long as the benefits from surgery do.

The procedures have allowed many people too old or frail for an operation to get help for problems that otherwise would have likely been fatal. "You can do these on 90-year-old patients," King said.

The treatment also offers hope for people who cannot tolerate long-term use of blood thinners or other drugs to manage their conditions. It is also helpful for patients who don't get enough help from these medicines and are getting worse.

"It's opened up a whole new field," Dr. Hadley Wilson, cardiology chief at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte says. "We can hopefully treat more patients more definitively, with better results."

For those with heart issues, it is important that you are evaluated by a "heart team" that includes a surgeon as well as other specialists who do less invasive treatments. Many patients now get whatever treatment is offered by whatever specialist they are sent to, and those specialists sometimes are rivals.

"We want to get away from that" and do whatever is best for the patient, Dr. Timothy Gardner says, a surgeon at Christiana Care Health System in and an American Heart Association spokesman. "There shouldn't be a rivalry in the field."

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