A little over a year ago, Anchorage Alaska resident Duane Nystedt was barely able to walk or perform easy, everyday tasks like taking out the garbage.
Over the years his symptoms had grown continuously worse and he was not any closer to finding a long-term solution. His energy levels were low and he had difficulty breathing at all times. Bad as it was, the 69-year-old had grown accustomed to the feeling.
“I thought I was dying and this was going to be my last year,” said Duane.
Duane was suffering from a blocked coronary artery that reduced the supply of oxygen-rich blood to his heart. He had been to a number of hospitals in three different states, undergone two open-heart surgeries and ten angioplasties, but to no avail. Physician after physician told him his blocked artery could not be accessed and opened to restore blood flow.
The doctors explained that his blockage was inaccessible for treatment because a “kink” in his lower coronary artery. Duane even tried experimental treatments, such as injecting his heart with growth hormones to promote blood flow. Nothing helped.
“I was running out of options until one day my local cardiologist told me about a doctor in Washington State he had recently met at the Alaska Heart Institute,” said Duane. “He was there speaking about a new procedure and my cardiologist thought this might just be my only chance at finding a treatment.”
Less than two weeks later Duane met with Dr. William Lombardi an interventional cardiologist at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham, Washington, and an internationally recognized expert in the treatment of blood vessels that are completely blocked (chronic total occlusions). Dr. Lombardi is one of a few physicians in the country who performs a complicated procedure that has been shown to be successful in opening these totally blocked blood vessels.
Duane, who had undergone angioplasty in the past, noticed how the procedure was different. First, not one but two catheters were inserted into each of the arteries in his upper leg. One catheter was advanced to the top of Duane’s heart and the other was led to the bottom of this heart. With the catheters in place, Dr. Lombardi pushed tiny, hair-size wires (called guidewires) through the catheters to the blocked artery. With the guidewires approaching the blocked artery from both sides, Dr. Lombardi was able to fully open Duane’s artery for the first time. Once the artery was open, six stents were embedded into his artery to help keep the artery open and allow blood flow.
Throughout the four-hour procedure, Duane was awake and experienced only a little discomfort. He was released from the hospital the next day. His legs were weak from the procedure, but for the first time in years he was able to walk without shortness of breath.
“I was hiking with my wife and I told her I felt like running. I haven’t run or felt like running in 15 years. The procedure has completely changed my life. I feel like I’m 50 years old again!” Duane said.
Other things have changed for Duane. He still takes heart medication daily, but following the procedure Duane has been able to cut his medication use in half.
And now he spends the winter months in Arizona, enthusiastically walking the the golf course, something he hadn’t been able to do in years.
“Life isn’t much good if you can’t enjoy it,” said Duane. “I always told myself if I stuck around long enough there would be a new heart procedure that will help me. That’s exactly what’s happened. It’s a miracle what happened, and I have nothing but praise for Dr. Lombardi.”
Angioplasty is a procedure designed to restore normal blood flow through clogged or blocked arteries. The goal is to reopen the blood vessel to as close to a normal diameter as possible, allowing blood to flow freely. New, innovative angioplasty techniques are making the procedure available to ever more patients as a less invasive alternative to surgery.