GAINESVILLE – A Northeast Georgia Medical Center cardiologist implanted the first dissolvable heart stent in a patient Monday, a new treatment option for coronary artery disease approved last week.
The Gainesville hospital is the first center in the state – and the third in the Southeast – to offer the stent created by Abbott Laboratories, which was approved last week by the Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Christopher Leach, the interventional cardiologist who performed the operation, said the stent is “an excellent opportunity for our center and our practice.”
“I think it just gives us a new option to help care for patients, and we’re going to use it on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease and kills 370,000 people annually.
The dissolvable stent is similar to the material in dissolving stitches, which will disappear after three years, after it has done its job of keeping a clogged artery open and helping it heal.
The stent most commonly used today is made of metal, which acts as a scaffold to keep the vessel open, Leach said.
Northeast Georgia Medical Center is one of only 100 hospitals in the nation that will begin offering the dissolvable stent this month.
“It’s a night-and-day difference to what it was in the ‘80s,” the cardiologist said of the new treatment.
Before stents, cardiologists used balloon angioplasty to squeeze the vessel open past the blockage.
“As you do that, it causes some trauma to the inside of the wall of the vessel. It’ll tear the wall a little bit and open up some fissures and things like that, and they’re not terribly conducive sometimes to maintaining flow,” Leach said.
With the stents, the rate of an emergency bypass operation is 1 in 1,000, he said. During the age of balloon angioplasty, the rate was 1 in 20.
“Just about once a day, somebody would be racing out of the (catheterization) lab on a gurney going to the operating room for emergency bypass surgery back in the day,” Leach said.
Leach said he alone will perform 200 to 250 heart stent placements per year, and the group at the hospital will collectively perform 1,000 to 1,200 annually.
The dissolvable stents, Leach said, will improve upon the metal stents by leaving space for future interventions if needed.
The metal stents also hamper the vessel’s ability to expand and contract as needed.
“By putting a stiff metal structure in there, you limit their ability to make that change,” he said.