Totally blocked coronary arteries meet their match

October 25, 2016 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Living with a completely blocked coronary artery is possible, but it isn’t easy.

Dependent on medication to get him through the day, Russell Vestuto, 71, of Plainfield couldn’t carry a bag of groceries into the house without pain in his chest and back.

The physical requirements of his job in a retail garden center caused more pain than he could bear, so he quit.

“It was so bad, I didn’t want to live with it,” Vestuto says. “Either you fix it or I croak.”

About 14 years earlier, Vestuto had bypass surgery. He said the artery was clogged then, but doctors could not remove the blockage.

Chronic total occlusions (CTOs) remain a clinical dilemma and a challenge for clinicians treating patients with cardiovascular disease. There are hundreds of thousands of people with CTOs, which, in many cases, were untreatable. Some CTOs are treated with bypass surgery, but 60 percent of patients with CTOs are treated only with prescription drugs.

Now, new techniques and strategies developed by an elite group of doctors, including an Edward-Elmhurst Health cardiologist, have made it possible to unclog those arteries.

In Vestuto’s case, the bypass operation alleviated some discomfort. However, his chest pain had been steadily increasing the previous three years. He was downing 100 nitroglycerin pills each month to help widen his blood vessels and ease the pain.

Vestuto met with Mark Goodwin, MD, System Medical Director of Edward-Elmhurst Health’s Cardiac Innovations & Structural Heart Center and interventional cardiologist with Advocate Medical Group. Dr. Goodwin said he could clear Vestuto’s artery.

The best strategies and new techniques for treating CTOs are being developed by a team of 20 leading CTO operators around the world, including Dr. Goodwin. These new techniques have allowed doctors to reopen the clogged arteries 90 percent of the time.

“This is a great new advance to give patients options and improve their quality of life,” Dr. Goodwin says. “Mr. Vestuto had no options. Afterward, he felt like he got his life back.”

Edward-Elmhurst is at the top end of experience in treating CTOs and among the leaders in the country in terms of its success rate. If a blockage is too hard to push through, doctors have developed new techniques to go around or through the blockage.

Dr. Goodwin was able to push through Vestuto’s blockage and insert a stent to keep the formerly blocked artery open.

For Vestuto, the CTO operation was life-changing.

“The effect from it was immediate,” Vestuto says. “The man saved my life. The chest pain was totally gone. I’ve gone from 100 (nitro pills) in a month to maybe one in a month. I couldn’t go on like that anymore.”

Vestuto returned to work, resumed his household chores and has a new outlook.

“Believe me, the difference was night and day. One minute you’re in bad shape. The next, it’s over and done with,” Vestuto says. “The next day, there was no more pain. It’s unbelievable.”

Learn more about cardiac care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Find out if you’re at risk for heart disease.

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