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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) – Clearing plaque from clogged arteries is a common procedure that saves lives. It just got even easier thanks to a new, high-tech catheter that lets surgeons see inside those arteries for the first time.

59-year-old Wilbert Wallace was the first patient in Louisiana to experience the new technique as a treatment for his painful peripheral artery disease (PAD). The condition affects nearly 20 million Americans and occurs when plaque builds up inside the leg arteries, preventing oxygen-rich blood from reaching the extremities. Complications include heart attack and stroke. Doctors initially told Wallace he could face double amputation.

“I like to build race car engines, I like to ride horses, I like to run heavy equipment,” he said from his hospital bed.

To save his legs and quality of life, vascular surgeons deployed the new plaque-busting catheter called Pantheris. The small camera in the tip allows the doctor to see the removal progress in real time. Pantheris was approved by the FDA in March 2016.

Dr. Glen Schwartzberg at the Baton Rouge Clinic was the first in the state to try the new device at Baton Rouge General Medical Center. The catheter is fed through a small incision in the groin that does not require full anesthesia. Once inside, the team is able to see exactly what needs to be cut away without damaging the artery wall, which can cause further narrowing. X-ray technology was previously used during similar procedures, but those images are not nearly as clear.

“You can treat better and be more efficient and safer in the approach,”Schwartzberg said of the benefits. “The other thing is it allows the clinician and the patient to have less radiation exposure.”

After several runs, the Pantheris is removed and cleaned. It didn’t look like much, but the white plaque taken out of the catheter is what nearly caused Wallace to lose his legs. Instead, he was out of the hospital within 24 hours.

“We can work on arteries in a much safer way than we ever could do that before. I think the safety profile is the part that makes it feel so good,” Dr. John Simpson said.

Simpson founded Avinger, Inc. in 2007 and developed the Pantheris catheter over the last four years. He was in Baton Rouge for its Louisiana debut.

“It’s being used now in 17 sites across the U.S., but we expect it to be a worldwide opportunity. It’s being used in Germany and Austria,” he said.

Interventional cardiologist Satish Gadi was the second local doctor to use Pantheris. Through his practice at the Cardiovascular Institute of the South, he’s also excited to have a safer way to get his patients’legs working normally. The increased mobility means healthier hearts.

“It’s the same process that’s causing the blockage in the legs as well as in the heart,” Gadi explained. “It’s the same cholesterol problem, diet, obesity, lack of exercise.”

It’s important to catch PAD early to avoid heart problems. Here’s a list of common symptoms:

  • Leg pain that goes away with walking
  • Discoloration of the legs/feet
  • Numbness or cold feelings in legs/feet
  • Foot ulcers that don’t heal
  • Pale, shiny skin

Ask your doctor about a simple, painless ultrasound to determine your risk for PAD. Those at risk include anyone over the age of 50, especially African-Americans; those who smoke or have smoked; and those who have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a personal or family history of vascular disease, heart attack, or stroke.

Contact Dr. Glen Schwartzberg at the Baton Rouge Clinic at 225-769-4044.

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.

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