Local cardiac patients testing dissolvable heart stents

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A disappearing device for the heart is being tested in Kansas City to see if it helps people who have blockages in arteries.

Bob Swogger of Atchison was brought by ambulance to the University of Kansas Hospital in November after he started having chest and jaw pain.

"I was thinking, oh, this isn't a heart attack. And this is gonna go away. It'll stop," said Swogger.

But Bob was having a heart attack, and he needed angioplasty to unclog an artery. A tiny metal stent was placed in the artery to keep it open. Another blockage was found, so several weeks later, he had more angioplasty. This time, he was part of a study.

Doctors are comparing the standard metal stent to an experimental one made of a biodegradable polymer. The new stent is designed to dissolve over two to three years.

"The idea behind the study is you don't actually need the stent forever, that you need a scaffold to help support the vessel while it heals. And once it's healed, the scaffold gets absorbed over time," said Dr. Mark Wiley, a K.U. Hospital cardiologist.

Dr. Wiley says possible benefits include less chance of a blood clot forming in the stent, and more flexibility for the artery.

"The artery returns to normal motion, so if it has to accommodate more blood flow with exercise, it can do so," he said.

Swogger enrolled in the study in part because there could be a lower chance of future chest pain or angina with the dissolvable stent. For now, he and others in the study don't know if they got the new stent or a standard metal one. Either way, Swogger is doing fine.

"I would tell anybody that has chest pains, don't hesitate," he said.

Don't hesitate to call 911. As Swogger knows, it could be a heart attack.

The dissolvable stent is already used in Europe. Depending on the results of the study, it could be approved here in a few years. Dr. Wiley doesn't think it will ever totally replace metal stents because metal may still be needed for more difficult blockages.

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