New Heart Procedure Offers Hope to Patients with Blocked Arteries

June 24, 2014
Tallahassee, Fla. --- North Florida and South Georgia residents with completely blocked arteries now have a new option for relief thanks to a new method for bypassing blockages within the heart to open an artery. The procedure is called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) for chronic total occlusions (CTO) and is a minimally invasive alternative for patients with completely blocked arteries that are not candidates for bypass surgery.

“Currently, there are a number of patients suffering from severe angina (chest pains) due to their CTO who are just living with it, because they thought nothing could be done,” said John Katopodis, M.D., an interventional cardiologist with TMH Physician Partners, Cardiac & Internal Medicine Specialists, Services provided by Southern Medical Group, P.A (TMHPP). “Many of them have bypasses that have closed up or blockages that were too hard for traditional equipment to pierce through to place a stent. Others were too risky for surgery. Thanks to advances in medicine, we now have something to offer them that can dramatically improve their quality of life.”

Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011, the procedure involves using new technology and techniques to bypass blockages by entering the wall of an artery and using stents to create a new tunnel for blood to flow through to the other side. Arteries in the wrist or groin are used to access the heart, so the chest is never opened.

“This is very exciting, because up until now, we could only stay within the space inside an artery safely,” said Katopodis. “If our equipment met a blockage that couldn’t be penetrated, there was nothing else you could do. Now we can get into this new space – the wall of the artery – travel over the blockage, and come back into the artery downstream to restore blood flow. It’s a radically different way of thinking.”

Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH) is currently the only center in the region performing the procedure, joining a select group of hospitals nationwide. Physicians say many hospitals are not able to offer minimally invasive care for CTOs due to the high skill level needed by a cardiologists and the commitment to additional training required by both physicians and supporting staff members.

“This is the most complex type of angioplasty you can do, so if you have only been performing angioplasties for a couple of years, you won’t have developed the catheter, wire and problem-solving skills needed,” explained William Dixon, M.D., also an interventional cardiologist with TMHPP. “Dr. Katopodis and I have more than 15 years each performing angioplasties. Additionally, we had to complete online lectures, live case studies and on-site trainings by pioneers in the field.

Due to the complexity of the procedure, we also handpicked our most experienced lab technicians to train along with us. This procedure takes more time to complete than a regular angioplasty, and it has many moving parts. A highly trained and experienced support staff is critical to our success.”

Patients who undergo the procedure experience a relatively simple recovery. There is some soreness in the wrist or groin associated with the incision, but they generally can go home the next day and return to performing their daily activities fairly quick.   

PCI for CTOs joins a list of recent advancements TMH has made in the cardiology arena. Recently, its structural heart program expanded to include minimally invasive repairs of the mitral valve. The electrophysiology program also opened the region’s only clinic dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of atrial fibrillation (AFib) in conjunction with the Heart & Vascular Center becoming the 25th center in the U.S. to receive full AFib certification from the Society of Chest Pain Centers.