Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Some Good News

New remedy: a no-surgery heart bypass

Allen Howard

Somehow when I think of the advancement in medical technology, I begin to believe that even the sky is not the limit.

I say that because I just had a heart bypass without the surgery, and without missing a day at work. I carried on my normal activities, social life and walking, and I even played in a golf tournament in Charlotte, N.C.

After I had a mild heart attack in April, my cardiologist, Dr. L. Rajasekhar, decided I didn't need surgery. Thank God.

He suggested external counterpulsation treatment (ECP).

"You have blockage in major arteries, but a bypass would not help because you don't have collateral circulation," he said. "The ECP treatment will re-establish collateral circulation."

Of course I don't understand any of this, but this is how it worked: For seven weeks, from 8-9 a.m. Monday through Friday, I was treated at his Westwood office. Usually, I would stop by my office and work 30 minutes or an hour before going for the treatment.

At Rajasekhar's office I would be strapped to a CardiaAssist machine with a series of cuffs placed on my calves, thighs and buttocks by technicians Sandy Begley and Charlene Ramstetter.

Rajasekhar explained that the counterpulsation takes place during that interval when the heart is resting.

"The machine pumps oxygenated blood to the heart in between the time when the heart is not pumping. It stops just before the heart pumps," he said.

When the cuffs compress in sequence it increases blood flow back toward the heart, Rajasekhar said. He said the inflation of these cuffs is timed to the heartbeat so the blood arrives at precisely the time the heart relaxes.

"Before your heart beats again, the cuffs are instantaneously deflated, which enables the blood to be pumped into your now empty blood vessels with minimal resistance," Rajasekhar said.

After seven weeks, a stress test showed that my collateral circulation had been restored.

"By forcing the blood into the arteries, it creates a natural bypass," Rajasekhar said. "It also opens the carotid arteries in the neck to prevent strokes."

Since he started giving the treatments a year and a half ago, 80 people have taken them and their hearts are functioning normally again, he said

The ECP treatment has been used widely in England for 50 years, but is new to the United States, Rajasekhar said.

For more information about the treatment, call 922-5285.

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