New Stent Surgery Offered at Local Hospital
By Claudia Pinto / Daily Progress staff writer
April 25, 2005
A Louisa County man was the first patient at Martha Jefferson Hospital to undergo a new, less-invasive procedure to unclog carotid arteries and prevent strokes.
"I'm glad to be a pioneer in this because I really think it saved my life," Frank Smallwood said.
The 69-year-old man went to sleep one night feeling fine and woke up the next morning nearly blind. He'd had a stroke. And because the carotid arteries in the left side of his neck were 90 percent blocked, doctors told him he would probably have another one.
Carotid arteries carry blood from the heart to the brain. Strokes can occur when plaque, built up in those arteries, breaks off and blocks the flow of blood to the brain.
Smallwood knew he had to do something. He joked that his wife gave him little choice.
"I've been married for 51 years to the same lady and she said she's too old to break another one in," he said.
So Smallwood opted to have a new procedure that uses a stent recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Martha Jefferson and Bon Secours in Richmond are the only hospitals in the state that offer the treatment.
Dr. Lewis Owens, a vascular surgeon at Martha Jefferson, said it's much less invasive than the 90-minute traditional surgery, in which a 6-centimeter incision is made in the neck and arteries are cleaned out by hand. He noted that recovery time is slashed from a few weeks to a few days.
"It's perfect for treating patients who are at high risk for a stroke but can't handle having open surgery," said Owens, who performed Smallwood's operation along with Dr. Anthony Spinelli on March 22.
The 30-minute procedure calls for a tiny incision in the groin area. The stent is then threaded up to the carotid arteries. Once in place, the stent is opened, clearing the way for blood to travel freely to the brain.
"There's a protection device on the stent that prevents pieces from breaking off and going to the brain when it's opened," Owens said. "It allows blood cells to go through but it catches plaque."
About 100,000 Americans have traditional surgery to unclog carotid arteries each year. Owens said several factors can contribute to blockage including high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and genetics.
Symptoms include blurred vision, slurred speech, and weakness in the arms and legs. But most people won't have any symptoms at all until a stroke occurs.
Owens noted that people can have ultrasounds to find how much plaque has built up. He said ideal candidates for the procedure have more than 70 percent blockage.
Smallwood said he would recommend it to anyone.
"I've made it to 69 and three-fourths," he said, "and after this I'm aiming for at least 100."
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