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Utah doctors perform novel heart procedure to save a life

SALT LAKE CITY — Larry Davis had suffered his last heart attack. He was pronounced dead in Lyman, Wyo., and his wife was preparing to say "goodbye."

"And then they found a little bit of life," he said Friday via Skype from his home in Nebraska. "There was a pulse, and they got the helicopter ready."

Good thing for Davis, he was headed to University Hospital, where doctors are enlisted in a randomized study of a new cardiac parachute procedure that intends to help patients like Davis feel better and become more functional following a heart attack.

"There's a whole series of patients who end up with heart attacks, and … it's not just so simple that the heart becomes weak," said Dr. Frederick Welt, director of the hospital's cardiac catheterization lab. "The heart actually does something called remodeling. It changes shape, parts of the heart become larger, and areas can bulge out, decreasing performance."

Davis, originally from Utah, is a prime candidate for the minimally invasive surgery, after experiencing heart failure and having had at least one prior heart attack.

A portion of his heart was no longer working, but enlarged, required the life-giving organ to pump higher volumes of blood, which was problematic for his health. Only so much can be done with drugs, however, which can help the heart contract more or bring down the volume, Welt said.

"Despite all those advances, there are a certain number of patients who just continue to do worse and worse, and that is due to this process of the remodeling of the heart," he said. "The heart continues to lose its original structure and shape."

The parachute, a product developed by California-based CardioKinetix, is deployed via a tube inserted through the femoral artery in the leg. It then expands to fit the ventricle and basically resizes the chamber, blocking off the previously weakened area of the heart, according to Dr. Anwar Tandar, an interventional cardiologist who placed the new device in Davis' heart on Wednesday.

He said the patient is under conscious sedation and not anesthesia for the duration of the X-ray and ultrasound-guided procedure.

"It is not a complicated procedure," Tandar said, adding that it took about an hour to complete.

"It's amazing what they could do," Davis said. "They worked hard to save me. They brought me back, and if it weren't for them, I wouldn't be here today."

He said he hasn't experienced many of the after-effects of a heart attack and the numbness in his hands was gone in just two days. Davis was able to go back to work on Friday.

"I hardly feel like I even had a heart attack," he said.

Welt said Davis is just one of many patients the study will follow for the next year — though he was the first to receive the procedure in Utah. Doctors are hoping for good results so the device can be used in general practice to help many more patients like Davis.

"The purpose of the parachute device is to restore some more normal function to the heart," he said.

The research involves a rigorous screening process and patients are selected at random after meeting several requirements.

"I'm happy to have him home," said Davis' wife, Letha Davis. "It was a very close call. We just thank our blessings every day that everything is working out. He's healthy and he's home and he's great."

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards