YOUR HEALTH: A better way to perform risky heart surgery

TUCSON, Arizona – New technology is allowing cardiologists to do life-saving procedures on high risk patients too sick to undergo open heart surgery.

The heart lung catheter system called TandemLife works to pump blood to keep the body functioning while doctors stabilize patients.

Last year, Ann Martin had to go to the hospital since she didn't feel quite right.

"They zipped me in there and did an EKG first which did identify that I was having a heart attack."

She had angioplasty but didn't want surgery to relieve her blocked arteries.

Then, while getting a second opinion at another medical center she had a second heart attack.

"If she had not come, I don't think she would make it at this time," said interventional cardiologist Kapil Lotun.

She says Ann had 99 percent blockage on both sides of her heart.

Surgery would have been high risk.

So although he'd never used it in this procedure, Dr. Lotun says it made sense to use the Tandem Life heart and lung catheter system.

"It takes over the function of the heart so that you have blood with oxygen going to the brain, your organs, and your tissues," said Dr. Kapil Lotun, Cardiac Catheterization Lab Director at Banner-University Medical Center.

The console powers this pump.

The pump pulls blood from a vein, oxygenates it with this component and puts the blood back into the body.    It allowed Dr. Lotun to place stents and balloons in Ann's arteries without using a breathing machine or invasive surgery.

TANDEMLIFE:   TandemLife is a device used to help support cardiac patients in critical condition.   It's possible they are not getting enough blood to the rest of their body, or their heart is not functioning at full capacity.   The pump takes up blood, oxygenates it, and pushes it back into the body, almost like a temporary replacement for the heart.   It consists of catheters and a pump, attached to an oxygenator.   It can be used during a high-risk heart procedure, but also for high-risk patients who have experienced cardiac arrest or who need the extra support through a procedure.   With the oxygenator, this pump makes it easier for health professionals to get this device in the nick of time for patients when they are sick and running out of time.   The procedure can be completed in about five to 10 minutes, which could be life-saving for cardiac patients.

"They put in five stents including a Y-shaped one," said Ann.   "A year later, I'm still going strong."

She says her arthritis is what limits her activities more than her heart these days.  And she feels blessed.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.