From Open Heart Surgery to Naturally Dissolving Stents
October 10, 2016

Important New Treatment Available for Patients with Coronary Artery Disease

If you, or someone you love, has coronary artery disease, here’s some good news for you: an advance in treatment that can help your blocked artery recover and heal… and then disappears, leaving a restored, naturally pulsating artery.

It used to be that open heart surgery was the go-to solution for patients with coronary artery disease — the serious, sometimes life-threatening condition that affects over 15 million people in the United States alone. When balloon angioplasty was developed in the late 1970s, that became the protocol; that technology was followed in the late 1980s by the manufacture of stents, which were placed in the area opened by the balloon. And 15 years ago, the addition of medication to those stents was a step forward in the evolving treatment of this disease.

Now, there’s something new — and cardiac patients who rely on St. Luke’s University Health Network have even more to smile about. St. Luke’s is the only provider in the Lehigh Valley to offer Absorb, the first-of-its-kind stent that is resorbed into the body. St. Luke’s is already the leader in the Lehigh Valley area for heart valve repair, and operates the region’s only women’s heart center. St. Luke’s also has the region’s leading experts in heart rhythm disease.

Raymond A. Durkin, MD, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at St. Luke’s, is glad to have the new treatment available for their patients. “Being able to offer this treatment to people who need it fits right into our philosophy — providing top quality care that’s tailored to each specific patient.”

He continues, “ I’ve been extensively trained on its use, as have other of our physicians. What I like about it is this: it goes in, does its job, and then…disappears. The benefit to the patient is that once the stent is gone, the artery can regain its original flexibility, which means it can pulsate normally and aid in blood flow.” Other St. Luke’s interventional cardiologists who have been trained to use Absorb include Christopher L. Sarnoski, DO, Peter R. Puleo, MD, and Luis Tejada, MD.

Signs of coronary artery disease include chest pain and shortness of breath, both of which are caused by the reduction of blood flow to the heart. This reduction in blood flow is from a build-up of plaque — made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other deposits — on the inner wall of the artery, narrowing its space. Stents are inserted after balloon angioplasty to help keep the artery open, and deliver medicine to help reduce the plaque. The Absorb stent takes the process one step further by dissolving.

That dissolving feature happens over a three-year span, so the stent first acts like an ordinary stent: it provides the artery with the scaffolding it needs to keep the narrowed vessel open. It also delivers medicine that breaks down the plaque that is blocking the artery. Once the artery starts to heal and repair itself, the stent starts to dissolve. It’s constructed of a natural material that breaks down into carbon dioxide and water, which are resorbed into the body.

“The fact that the stent dissolves also makes it easier to offer additional interventions if it becomes necessary,” says Dr. Durkin.

The stent, while newly-FDA approved, has already been used to treat 150,000 people and is available in more than 100 countries worldwide, having received regulatory approval in Europe in 2010.