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Heart Interventions for the New Decade
by Dr. John Cox, Freeman Heart & Vascular Institute Cardiologist
Published in The Joplin Globe Body & Mind supplement
March/April 2010

At the start of a new decade, it seems right to reflect on emerging advances in heart care that will impact people’s lives in the coming years. Freeman Heart & Vascular Institute actively participates in clinical research and, as a result, stays at the forefront of technological advances in cardiology.

For example, we have recently engaged in clinical trials involving an innovative heart pump called the Impella®. This small device helps doctors revive people from severe, shock-like states and more safely perform high-risk heart procedures. This breakthrough heart pump can temporarily take over a good portion of the circulatory function of the heart, giving doctors time to perform high-risk angioplasty (balloon repair of a blood vessel) and stenting (inserting a cylinder of mesh into a blood vessel to restore blood flow). The Impella comes in two forms: one implanted during procedures in the cardiac catheterization lab to support angioplasty and resuscitate patients from shock, the second introduced surgically through the thigh to help wean patients from the heart-lung machine following heart bypass surgery.

Traditionally, carotid artery blockages have been treated with open surgery (surgery using an incision large enough to access the artery directly). Currently, two Freeman cardiologists are enrolling patients in a research project that uses stents for this purpose instead. These state-of-the-art stent procedures compare favorably with open surgical procedures in regard to the incidence of stroke and with fewer complications involving nerve paralysis and cardiac complications. Therefore, we believe stenting will become state-of-the-art for carotid artery blockages in this decade.  

Additionally, we anticipate that methods of replacing heart valves will change in this decade as well. New devices currently under development will be deployed through the thigh artery to replace valves, the aortic valve in particular, by using a stent-delivered replacement. Research centers throughout the country are currently using prototype devices, and we anticipate further developments soon.

Oftentimes, heart attacks and other types of heart muscle problems lead to permanent damage of the heart, significantly impacting survival and health. The ability of the heart to recover from damage has always been a difficult problem to overcome. New research is underway to actually grow new heart muscle cells. The coming decade will see a blossoming of this research, which will lead to the development of replacement cells for damaged hearts.

New drugs under development will also help prevent clots, stabilize the heart’s electrical system, and relieve other cardiac symptoms. Likely, these drugs will become available within the next few years.

Ongoing clinical research in cardiology often and regularly yields significant results, and because of this, we expect the new decade to bring many exciting innovations to help us better care for our patients. As a training and research institution, Freeman Heart & Vascular Institute anticipates the incorporation of these new devices and technologies as soon as they become available. In the short-term, we encourage everyone to engage in heart-healthy activities, such as maintaining a lean body weight, eating low amounts of saturated fats, and exercising regularly. As in many areas in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

About John Cox, DO, FACC, Freeman Heart & Vascular Institute cardiologist:
Dr. John Cox is board certified and fellowship trained in cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology. His office is located at Freeman Heart & Vascular Institute, 417.347.5000.