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No-knife procedure to avoid some open heart surgeries is now in Israel

Pulmonary embolisms that can’t be treated by drugs can now be sucked out by tech newly deployed at Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital — instead of requiring invasive operation

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Michael Galbard, 69, who was given a new treatment for a pulmonary embolism at Hadassah Medical Center. (Courtesy: Hadassah Medical Center)
Michael Galbard, 69, who was given a new treatment for a pulmonary embolism at Hadassah Medical Center. (Courtesy: Hadassah Medical Center)

Jerusalem doctors have delivered the life-saving effect of open heart surgery without needing to perform the invasive, risk-prone procedure.

Michael Galbard, 69, was recently rushed to Hadassah Medical Center with a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot that travels to a lung artery where it blocks blood flow.

Acute pulmonary embolism is a common cause of cardiovascular death — the third most common cause in the United States, after heart attack and stroke.

Galbard’s condition was too bad to wait for drugs that are administered orally to dissolve the clots, and he had previously gone through chest trauma, which meant that other treatments were too risky.

“In the past, we could have only helped him using open heart surgery, but we decided to use a new option,” Dr. David Planer, director of Hadassah’s Catheterization Department, told The Times of Israel.

“We would have needed to open up the chest, put the patient on a pump in place of the heart, and clean the arteries by cutting them open. We would have then sucked up the clots and closed up the patient — all of which carries risks for a patient in a serious state.”

File: An illustration of a pulmonary embolism blocking an artery in the lungs. (wildpixel via iStock by Getty Images)

Instead, Planer and his colleagues removed the clots non-surgically using new American tech, in what they say was a first-of-a-kind treatment for Israel. Now, two weeks after the procedure, Galbard is recovering well at home, and has agreed for his story to be shared. The technology will be used to help more patients.

“We used a needle and small tube to access the patient through the groin, and then enlarged the access point to insert an eight-millimeter-thick tube,” Planer explained. “This tube went all the way to the right ventricle and then to the pulmonary artery, where the clots were located.”

“We sucked out the clots, and then filtered the blood where there had been clots, so that we could restore the blood totally clean of any clots.”

They used FlowTriever, the first system for sucking out such clots to receive the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration.

“It’s a very challenging and sensitive process, performed on a patient in serious condition, and I am happy that it was successful in the first instance in Israel,” he said.

“This is a revolution in the field of heart catheters, a technology that will serve us in the future and will save the lives of many patients.”

Peer-reviewed research published in November on FlowTriever noted that while medications have long been the mainstay of treatment for the majority of pulmonary emboli, complex cases “often require a more aggressive, immediate approach.”

Sometimes, medication is delivered directly to the clots using a long catheter, but this can cause bleeding in high-risk patients.

The research, published by scholars who are unconnected to its manufacturers, suggested that the new approach is “appreciably safer” than both oral and catheter-delivered medications.

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