On Sept. 16, 1977, Dolf Bachmann, then 38 years old, became the first patient to undergo balloon angioplasty. At 68 years old Mr. Bachmann described himself “in excellent condition, free of complications and happy all around.” Having sold a business that he built over 25 years, he says he enjoys an “excellent life,” with hobbies including hiking, Nordic walking, skiing, working in his garden and playing cards.
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|Dolf Bachmann: World’s First Angioplasty Patient Now 68 Years Old and “Happy All Around”
When Mr. Bachmann arrived at University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, on Sept. 15, 1977, doctors confirmed his condition: angina pectoris – chest pain caused by too little blood (and oxygen) reaching the heart muscle due to blockage in the artery. An emergency bypass operation was scheduled for the following morning.
Dr. Andreas Gruentzig, a young physician at University Hospital, learned about Mr. Bachmann’s case. For weeks, he had been waiting for a patient who would be a suitable candidate for a new procedure he had developed but not yet tested. Dr. Gruentzig proposed to thread a tiny un-inflated balloon through the arteries to the point of blockage, then inflate the balloon to compress built-up fatty deposits causing the blockage against the artery wall. This, he believed, would create an opening in the artery so blood could again flow normally to the heart.
“Dr. Gruentzig came to my room and explained in detail the procedure he would do,” recalls Mr. Bachmann. “With his enthusiasm and the detailed and clear explanation, he gained my trust. The promise – that if the intervention failed, a bypass operation team was ready – caused me to give my OK without hesitation.”
Mr. Bachmann was awake during the operation. He recalls being the center of intense attention as doctors and professors watched Dr. Gruentzig perform the procedure. “I was probably the calmest person there,” he recalls.
The procedure was a success: After the balloon was inflated, Mr. Bachmann’s chest pain subsided. As Dr. Gruentzig and others reported the outcome of the procedure, angioplasty won acclaim as a medical breakthrough.
Today, 30 years after his angioplasty, Mr. Bachmann credits his “excellent condition” to positive lifestyle adjustments. At his doctors’ recommendation, he says he stopped smoking and reduced stress by making work and lifestyle changes.
Reflecting on his role in the birth of angioplasty, Mr. Bachmann says, “Few would have imagined that 30 years after the visionary intervention by Andreas Gruentzig, I would be absolutely free of any troubles with my heart – and that the cardiac catheter would represent a worldwide victory.”