Cool Coronary Lasers

Every year, 300-thousand Americans have bypass surgery. Unfortunately, more than half of those bypasses block up again in less than 10 years. A couple of years ago, your best bet would have been a second bypass operation. But there’s another option — doctors are clearing arteries using a refined laser technique that was developed back for submarine communications and monitoring the ozone layer.

Thanks to the excimer laser, Arnold can now walk with his wife. Thirteen years ago he had triple bypass surgery, and this year his angina came back. Walking was too painful.

Arnold:
“Or even if I was sitting, watching television in that leather chair, I would feel a heaviness on the chest doing absolutely nothing.”

He could have had another bypass operation. Instead, a laser-tipped catheter was threaded through his leg and into the blocked blood vessel. Beams of ultraviolet light turned the plaque buildup into harmless gas.

Arnold:
“I knew right away I don’t feel any heaviness anymore. And although I was confined to the bed for two days, I knew right away that my angina, at least for the moment, is gone.”

Cardiologist:
“Lasers got a bad name in this business because the first lasers that came out were hot-tip lasers using heat to remove plaque. And heat’s a very bad thing to do to coronary arteries because it causes clot and spasm and the initial results were terrible.”

The excimer laser is cool, but can still bore through tissue if it comes in direct contact. So it’s often used to partially open the blockage and the remainder is compressed using balloon angioplasty.

The excimer experts say success rates are over 90-percent. But the laser isn’t perfect. Half of those treated have a recurrence within six months. Still, he says it’s worth taking a chance. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a miracle.”

The excimer laser is valuable for about five- to seven-percent of patients — those for whom balloon angioplasty alone won’t do the job. And when it’s used instead of performing a second bypass operation, it can save a patient anywhere from 10- to 25-thousand dollars, as well as reducing recovery time dramatically.

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