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Keeping heart vessels clear

2 Utah doctors use new technique to hinder re-blockage

Vice President Dick Cheney's current heart problems are likely to increase calls to Utah doctors who are using a new technique to prevent re-blockage in heart blood vessels after balloon dilation.

"Any time a public figure goes through something like this, it increases the inquiries" about new procedures, said Dr. John Frischknecht, medical director of cardiology at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo. He is one of two Utah doctors who are using a new technique recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of patients who experience "restenosis" or new clogging in vessels that have been treated with angioplasty.

Dr. Sherm Sorensen, medical director of the cardiac catheter laboratories at LDS Hospital, also is using the procedure. The two physicians shared a news conference in mid-February to announce implementation of the procedure at their respective hospitals.

The technique, termed intravascular brachytherapy, involves using a catheter to carry encased radioactive strontium pellets to the affected area of the blood vessel. A "blast" of radiation has been shown to reduce the likelihood of restenosis by about 50 percent, the best treatment to date for the condition, the doctors said.

Some news stories regarding the vice president's troublesome heart history suggest he may be a candidate for the procedure. His heart history — a first heart attack at age 38 and three subsequent heart attacks, with several surgical procedures that failed to permanently resolve vessel blockage — appears to fit the profile outlined by the Utah physicians in their news conference.

Whether or not Cheney actually undergoes intravascular brachytherapy, the high volume of news coverage of his current problem is likely to spark interest in the new technique among many Americans.