Health: New catheter helps clear blocked arteries

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PHOENIX -- When one of the Arizona's top heart doctors found he didn't have the tool he needed to clear out blocked arteries, he went to work making one. So, what he came up with is a new balloon that lets him get closer to the blockage, and clear it out without damaging the arteries.

Dr. Richard Heuser, director of cardiology at St. Luke’s Medical Center, says 100 percent blocked arteries are among the toughest things he deals with. “It is the primary reason patients have to undergo bypass surgery," he says.

“When we work on arteries in the heart or the legs, we can't cross a blockage if we don't get a good support to the structure to get us across the blockage,” he says.

Unlike a partially blocked artery, where doctors can get a balloon into the vessel and compress the wall of plaque and place a stent, complete blockage requires some muscle.

“And about 5 or 6 years ago I developed a catheter that gives better support so that we can use a lot of support and get a running start at clearing these 100 percent blocked arteries,” Heuser tells us.

That catheter is called the Prodigy Support Catheter, and it recently won FDA approval.

“And something different than any center around the world, we actually treat these 100 percent blocked arteries from the wrist,” says Dr. Heuser. ”Open up the artery, put  one or two stents in the artery, and the patient goes home the same day.”

Dr. Heuser is able to do that, because the catheter is very small, letting him get right up to the blockage. But it then gives him another advantage. “So what we basically did is took a design of a regular balloon, but we made the balloon much shorter, and allowed it to go from a millimeter up to six millimeters, which is much bigger than normal balloons.”

That gives him more space to clear the blockage without damaging the blood vessel. “You don't want to tear these vessels  up. We can use roto-rooter devices, all these different devices, but everything you use that is traumatic to the layer of the artery lining is bad.

So far, Dr. Heuser has had a 100 percent success rate opening up blocked arteries with the Prodigy. He says it will probably be effective 90 percent of the time, as it is more widely used. He also says that it is a game changer for patients whose only other option up until now was bypass surgery. “This gives hope for those patients, that we can treat those patients with a less invasive way to take care of it.“