Saving the heart through the wrist

August 6, 2010 3:31:45 PM PDT
It's a slow-moving disease that sometimes starts developing as early as childhood: atherosclerosis. The plaque builds up in the arteries and blocks blood flow to the heart. But now, doctors have discovered a heart procedure to unclog arteries through the wrist.

The cutting- edge heart procedure reduces complications and recovery time.

Robert Santopietro looks and feels like a healthy 46-year-old, but his problem were lying dormant in his body.

"I started working out, getting back into shape ? my new year's resolution," said Santopietro.

So, when he ran out of breath and felt chest pains during workouts, he brushed it off.

"I just put it off to I ate before I went to go work out," said Santopietro.

The pain persisted because Santopierto had atherosclerosis and plaque was accumulating in his arteries.

Michael Azrin, M.D Interventional Cardiologist at the UCONN Health Center in Farmington, says a problem like Santopierto's can lead to serious complications.

"That plaque may become restrictive enough that there's inadequate flow, or more emergently, some degree of clot may form," said Dr. Azrin.

In order to unclog his arteries, Santopietro needed an angioplasty. Instead of the traditional technique, where doctors reach the heart by inserting a catheter through the femoral artery in the leg, he had a wrist angioplasty.

Doctors thread a tiny balloon through the catheter and guide it into the blockage.

A leg angioplasty has a 10 percent risk of heavy bleeding. One study shows the wrist procedure cuts that risk by 60 percent.

"When you're done, you pull the tube out and put a bandage on the wrist, and the patients can sit up and return to normal body functions very quickly," said Azrin.

Santopierto's stepfather had the procedure done less than a week ago. "Before, I'd get halfway up the stairs and have to stop, and now, I can go all the way."

Santopierto is also noticing a difference. "I feel 100 percent better. Knowing what could have happened and didn't happen is just amazing," said Santopietro

Doctors perform more than one-million angioplasties in the U.S every year. Unlike angioplasty through the leg, patients who have a wrist angioplasty don't have to lie flat on their backs for several hours afterwards. Dr. Azrin also says the procedure is easier for obese patients because their radial artery is more accessible.