Techniques to Save Failing Hearts

Published 11/20/09


From drilling holes to icy therapy, state of the art procedures that are saving heart patients.


Dr. Adel: The heart is a mighty muscle. It beats 35 million times a year, and pumps life giving blood through 100,000 miles of blood vessels. If something goes wrong, you can die. Here are three new techniques that use drilling, chilling, and filling to save failing hearts. Marian: My eyes are good. My teeth are good. My hearing leaves a lot to be desired. Dr. Adel: After years as a competitive skater, Marian Cook is now using different wheels to get around. Marian: My limitation is my heart arteries are just not providing enough blood, and I just can't physically do very much. Dr. Adel: It resulted in persistent chest pain, diagnosed as angina. 7 million Americans have it. For Marian, medications didn't help, and stints are not an option for him. So, doctors looked for an alternative. Man 1: To actually go in surgically, drill holes in the heart muscle using a specially designed laser, and that sounds a little far-fetched, but what these holes do is they deliver new blood flow to the heart muscle, through these small channels. Dr. Adel: The laser creates microscopic channels that stimulate the heart muscle. Man 1: It's almost like irrigating your lawn, where you have small channels that allow a new, fresh blood, and fertilizer, so to speak, to enter the heart muscle. We know that these small channels serve as a stimulus for the heart to try to repair itself. Dr. Adel: Researchers are now injecting stem cells into those channels to see if that will reverse heart disease. Marian: I'd like to keep going. I'd like to keep going. Dr. Adel: For patients like Marian, it's a chance to put chronic chest pain behind them. Edison: We were married on June the 21st, 1953. Dr. Adel: Edison Russel has a special term of endearment for his wife of 56 years. Edison: She's my miracle lady. Dr. Adel: But one day, Marlene Russel's heart stopped. Paramedics got it beating again, though she arrived at the emergency room unconscious. Marlene: I kept waiting for the gates to open and for me to see a light. But that didn't happen. Dr. Adel: Doctors used hypothermia therapy in an effort to boost Marlene's survival odds. Her body temperature was lowered from the normal 98.6 to 91 degrees. Man 2: You can simply pack someone in ice bags. You can infuse cold saline. You can also apply devices that cool the skin. Dr. Adel: It's the same therapy used to treat people with spinal cord injuries. In this case, cooling protects the brain from damage caused by lack of oxygen when the heart stops pumping. Man 2: When you make the body and the brain cold, you reduce the brain's metabolism. Dr. Adel: Edison isn't the only one who calls Marlene's recovery miraculous. Marlene: Really, I shouldn't be here. Dr. Adel: Of course, she and her family are all grateful for a second chance. Marlene: I'm going to celebrate a new life. Dr. Adel: Model train enthusiast Richard Wallace also got derailed in the prime of his life. Richard: I had a heart attack on March 5th of my 47th year. Dr. Adel: In the seven years since, Richard has had 25 stints inserted in his heart. Richard: They make a puncture wound in your groin usually, and they feed the catheter up to the heart. Dr. Adel: A catheter is less invasive than opening the chest, but getting it out isn't always easy. Richard: They're straddling you. There are at least two people. It feels like they're reaching in and pulling your bones out through your skin. Dr. Adel: Now a new procedure is easing the pain. Man 3: It's a soft sponge that's absorbable. Dr. Adel: A sponge is threaded through the catheter. It plugs up the hole in the artery to stop the bleeding, which eliminates the need for a doctor to apply extreme pressure. Man 3: They ought to be able to stop any bleeding with just two fingers, rather than putting your whole hand on somebody's groin and pushing down. Dr. Adel: Richard was up and walking around within a day. Richard: Recovery was so much faster. It was almost [inaudible 00:04:20]. Dr. Adel: Allowing him to get back to what he enjoys right away.

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