A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot travels from the legs through the heart to the lungs, creating a blockage. This is a problem because the lungs infuse blood with oxygen. Once blood leaves the lungs, the heart delivers the oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.
If the blood clot is small, a person can usually take blood thinners to dissolve it. However, if it is large, the person may be in danger of having the right side of the heart completely obstructed – a situation which can be fatal.
In these cases, a surgeon needs to perform emergency open surgery to manually remove the clot. Saint Francis Medical Center is the first hospital in the state of Missouri to perform a pulmonary embolectomy (removal of a clot) in a minimally invasive procedure using the AngioVac endovascular clot removal system.
“The AngioVac works much like a vacuum,” says Edward M. Bender, MD, FACS, cardiothoracic surgeon at Saint Francis. “I make an incision in the patient’s groin, then use X-ray guidance to thread a tube up into the pulmonary artery. The tube suctions the clot out of the artery, then returns the blood to the patient’s body through an artery in the neck.”
During an open procedure, a surgeon would need to make an 8-inch incision in the front of a patient’s chest. “Opening the chest is a major operation that can and should be avoided,” says Bender. “Many of the patients who experience a pulmonary embolism have other health issues that make recovery very difficult. Some of these patients would never fully recover from such an extensive procedure.”
“Instead, using the AngioVac gives us an opportunity to fix the problem in a minimally invasive fashion,” continues Bender. “The patient may need a short hospital stay after the procedure, but the recovery time is much quicker than it would be with an open procedure. We cannot use this device for patients who have gone into shock after suffering a massive pulmonary embolism. However, we can use it to help many other patients avoid open surgery.”
For more information, call 573-331-3996.