Tommy Dee is feeling particularly thankful, these days. “Not many people come back from cardiac arrest,’’ the 71-year-old says.
Not only did Tommy survive, he is beginning to thrive as he starts cardiac rehabilitation.
He credits his recovery to a breakthrough surgical procedure he received at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital.
To help his clogged artery, cardiologist Dr. Nirav Mehta implanted a stent. But instead of one made of metal – a standard of care – Tommy was given a new absorbable stent made of a naturally dissolving material.
Whereas a metal stent is a permanent part of the body and can be at risk of fracturing, the new stent is designed to dissolve in about three years after doing its job to heal the artery. The only sign of the stent left behind will be two pairs of tiny metallic markers to allow a physician to see where the device was placed.
“Science is taking us in a new direction, with a breakthrough that will enable patients to live a better and healthier life,” Mehta said.
To implant the new stent, a small tube is inserted in a small incision in the wrist or groin. A thin flexible tube is then threaded to the blockage and the stent made of biodegradable polymer is expanded to prop up the affected artery, pushing the plaque back in the artery wall to restore blood flow.
The absorbable heart stent is a game-changing breakthrough in the treatment of coronary artery disease, which affects approximately 15 million Americans. The technology was approved in July 2016 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
That was only two months before Tommy’s heart attack on Sept. 20.
While watching golf on television that day, he collapsed, gasping for breath. Linda, his wife of more than 40 years, dialed 911; a neighbor started chest compressions.
This wasn’t the first time Tommy had faced heart problems. While playing basketball 22 years before, he became winded. Doctors told him he needed a heart valve replacement. And Tommy followed through. In the years that passed, his heart seemed to be fine, until this recent collapse.
As fate would have it, another of Tommy’s family members came to his aid, that day. His firefighter son, Derek Dee, was just gathering his gear when a call came in. It was an all too familiar address: his parents. Within minutes, he found himself by Tommy’s side, helping to revive his father.
In October, Tommy became one of the first patients at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital to receive the new dissolvable stent. He beams when talking about his stent, seeing it as a sort of badge of honor. He says he didn’t know exactly what he was about to have implanted but wanted to follow the doctor’s orders. The start of cardiac rehab means he can get back on the golf course.
The longtime Valley resident retired about five years ago and is ready to get back to a “great life.” He hopes the stent will help him live longer and keep up with a new grandson, born just two months ago. “I feel like a million bucks,’’ he says.
Tommy’s new stent is expected to allow his restored artery pulse and flex naturally - something it just couldn't do with a metal stent. During the next few months, the stent will slowly release a drug to limit the growth of scar tissue and reduce inflammation.
“We are on the cusp of many advances in cardiovascular care,” Mehta said. “Our goal is not only to uncover new treatments, but also ways to prevent heart disease altogether.”