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Medical News

Close To Death, Lung-Clot Patient Is Saved By Groundbreaking New Procedure at DMC

High-Tech "AngioVac" Catheterization – first ever to take place in Michigan – helps DMC Cardiovascular Institute team rescue a patient from a potentially lethal pulmonary embolism.

Monday, August 6, 2012

DETROIT – When the patient entered the emergency room at the DMC Harper University Hospital last Thursday afternoon, she was perilously close to death.

After developing a massive blood clot in both her lungs, Detroit-area resident Mary Murphy was running out of oxygen fast. With her blood pressure dropping by the minute and her vital signs declining, she seemed likely to expire within the next hour or so.

But that didn't happen, thanks to a new high-tech procedure – the first of its kind ever used in Michigan – which allowed a team of DMC cardiovascular specialists to insert a narrow tube (a "catheter") through her veins and into her lungs. Once in place, the tube quickly vacuumed the offending clot out of her system.

The groundbreaking, hour-long procedure, which has only been used about a dozen times in the United States so far, rapidly restored the blood supply to the patient's starved lungs. Once that happened, her oxygen levels increased, her blood pressure rose and her life was no longer in danger.

And because the lifesaving "AngioVac" procedure was accomplished entirely via flexible catheter, the patient was spared the invasive "chest-cracking" surgical operation that probably would have been required without it.

"Last week's successful deployment of the new AngioVac Cannula [catheter] at the DMC marks a major step forward for patients who are struggling with pulmonary embolisms [blood clots in the lungs] and other types of cardiovascular blockages," said Theodore L. Schreiber, M.D., the President of the DMC Cardiovascular Institute (CVI), where the life-saving procedure took place.

"Once again the CVI is leading the way in using pioneering, state-of-the-art technology to save lives and improve quality of life for cardiovascular patients from all across Michigan and the Midwest."

Mahir D. Elder, M.D., FACC, the CVI medical director of Endovascular Medicine and an assistant clinical professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, said that when the middle-aged patient, Mary Murphy, was brought into the CVI catheterization lab last Thursday afternoon, "Her chances of survival were statistically very poor – probably less than 20 percent."

After determining that lung-surgery was impossible ("The patient was too unstable") and that blood thinners were failing to reduce the clot, Dr. Elder and his team of endovascular specialists decided to employ the newly available AngioVac procedure.

Through a tiny incision in the patient's thigh, a flexible catheter was inserted into her femoral vein. Then the team gradually maneuvered it through her veins and heart and into her lungs. Once in place, the catheter was poised to intercept the massive clot which had formed in both of Ms. Murphy's lungs. Medically described as a "saddle pulmonary embolism," the clot had formed at the point where the pulmonary artery splits into two branches in order to feed both lungs.

After positioning the AngioVac near the blockage, the CVI team was able to vacuum it harmlessly out of the patient's system.

Since this type of clot often attacks both lungs at once, it frequently results in death – sometimes even before the patient is diagnosed as having a pulmonary embolism.

But Mrs. Murphy, who's now resting comfortably at the DMC and says she's "extremely grateful" that the CVI team was outfitted with the life-saving new technology, is expected to fully recover. Thanks to the AngioVac, she was spared the dire consequences of both the clot and the invasive chest-surgery that typically would have been required in the past, according to the DMC specialists.

"As clinicians who are dedicated to helping patients with cardiovascular issues that can sometimes be life-threatening, we're excited about the power of this new catheterization tool," said Dr. Elder, who currently performs more cardiovascular peripheral interventions than any other Michigan physician each year. "I don't think there's any doubt that this new treatment procedure has the potential to change the way blood clots in the lungs are managed by clinicians," he added. "Passively treating clots with blood thinner is not enough.

"Once again the DMC is leading the way with an innovative and pioneering approach to a complex cardiovascular disease – and it's very encouraging to know that we're unique in Michigan right now in being able to provide all our cardiovascular patients with this life-saving new form of treatment."

[Photos available on request]

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