Cardiologist Uses Device Like a Dental Drill to Reopen Arteries

After two open-heart bypass surgeries and three balloon angioplasties, John Wilks seemed to be out of options.

The Wheaton, Ill. resident was taking five to 10 nitroglycerin pills a day for chest pain, and his cardiologist said nothing more could be done.

Then Wilks was referred to Dr. Fred Leya, an interventional cardiologist at Loyola University Health System. Leya used a device similar to a dental drill to reopen three arteries that had turned as hard as bone.

The drilling technology has been available since the 1990s, but requires advanced expertise that generally is not available at community hospitals. Leya does several drilling procedures each week.

Since undergoing the procedure Dec. 27, Wilks, 59, hasn’t taken a single nitroglycerin pill. “It turned everything around for me,” he said.

Wilks experienced his first heart symptoms when he was 45. He underwent a seven-artery bypass surgery in 1995, a four-artery bypass in 1997 and three balloon angioplasties. But the bypass arteries reclogged, with blockages.

A third bypass surgery wasn’t possible. And Wilks’ natural arteries were 100 percent clogged with bone-hard calcium deposits. So Leya used a 250,000 RPM diamond-tip instrument that looks and sounds like a dental drill, and drilled through three blocked arteries. The drilling produced tiny particles - smaller than red blood cells - that were removed by the body’s cleansing system. Leya is director of Interventional Cardiology and the Cardiac Catheterization Lab.

Wilks’ case illustrates the benefits of getting a second opinion at an academic medical center, Leya said. “When cardiac patients who are very sick and without hope come to a hospital like Loyola, their health and their hope often can be restored.”

Source:  Loyola University Health System

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