New Help for Chronic Heart Blockages

February 6, 2015

Glen Darby is spending more time playing with his grandson

Heart trouble was making 51-year-old Glen Darby feel old before his time. For years, he’d battled chest pain and shortness of breath. He’d had multiple stents to open his clogged arteries and even been through quadruple bypass surgery, but relief never lasted long.

“I’d have problems even when I was just sitting,” he explained. “It got so bad that when I said my prayers on my knees and then tried to climb into bed I’d get short of breath.”

Now, the Springfield man is feeling better than he has in years, thanks to some new tools that allow doctors to tackle completely blocked arteries, which doctors call chronic total occlusions (CTOs).

“Before, it was very difficult to help patients with CTO,” said Mercy cardiologist Dr. John Hawkins.”The blockages would get very firm over time and trying to get through them often led to complications. Now, with new equipment and techniques, we’re able to get through or around those blockages and improve the blood flow to the heart.”

The new equipment consists of a variety of wires, some smaller, others stiffer, and still others more slippery. Two new catheters perform different functions as well. One is very tiny and can break through blockages; the other can slip around blockages by going between the layers of an artery. Once around the blocked area, doctors use a new type of balloon to pop back into the channel where the blood flows.

“In Mr. Darby’s case, we had to steer between the struts of an old stent in his main artery and then get into the blocked branch,” Dr. Hawkins said. “With our new equipment, it opened up beautifully.” Improved blood flow means the heart muscle can get stronger and abnormal rhythm problems can stabilize.

The results were immediate for Darby. “After that surgery, that very night I could breathe better than I ever had – even with the bypass. I don’t have any shortness of breath now. I’m actually able to go on 20 to 30 minute walks and best of all – I can play with my three-year-old grandson!”

Darby’s success is why Dr. Hawkins encourages patients to ask about the new breakthroughs. “You may have been told for years that nothing could be done about your total occlusions,” he said. “That used to be true, but not any longer.”

Darby agrees. “I would highly recommend this,” he said. “I really think between God and the doctors my life has been saved. I’m so grateful to God that they were willing to work on me.”

For those who think the new treatments for chronic total occlusion could benefit them, Mercy offers a single-line referral: 417-820-2738.