New ways to save hearts

November 29, 2011 3:00:38 PM PST
A half-million people die of heart disease each year. Now, new game changing procedures are saving hearts and lives.

"To me, each time it's done, it's like a miracle," Robert Segal, MD Cedars Sinai Hospital, said.

Even doctors are in awe that heart valves can now be replaced without open heart surgery.

"Within an hour in the cath lab, they've gone from having an 85 year old valve to a valve that's brand new," Segal said.

Retired meatcutter Will Neighbors avoided going under the knife himself after he was diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis. His heart valve was calcified, hardening and failing. Duke cardiologists replaced his old valve with a new pig valve, delivered on the end of a catheter through a groin artery to the heart.

He is one of the first to get a same-day coronary angioplasty, where tiny balloons are inflated into the blocked arteries. Traditionally, cardiologists access the heart by threading a catheter through an artery in the leg. Now they've changed their approach, starting at the wrist. The risk of bleeding is less and patients can go home the same day. Neighbors was out of the hospital in six hours.

For some, stents are life-savers to keep arteries open. Now, a new stent could do job, and then dissolve away.

"The vessel needs to be supported for 3 to 4 months. After that it heals to the point where it's no longer at risk for the collapse," Stephen Ellis, MD Interventional Cardiologist Cleveland, said.

On traditional stents, there's a high risk of blood clots forming on the stent, setting off a heart attack. At just 41 years old, Willi Hampton knows the danger.

"It started to feel heavy?like someone was sitting on my chest," Hampton said.

That heaviness ended in stroke. Doctors hope patients like him will benefit from the absorbable stents. They provide support to blood vessels?release anti-scarring medication?and then disappear.

"The goal is to make this sort of stent the gold standard," Ellis said.

Keeping hearts beating better-and longer.

Another game changer-we've known for some time that statins lower bad cholesterol. Now doctors are using drugs like zocor, lipitor and crestor for people who do not have high cholesterol but still have increased inflammation in the body. It can also lead to heart disease. If heart disease runs in your family but your hdl is normal-ask your doctor for a blood test to check your inflammation level.