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Procedure “revolutionizes” treatment of pulmonary embolisms

Two interventional radiologists recently began performing a procedure in the Heart and Vascular Center at Yale New Haven Hospital that could save more patients with life-threatening pulmonary embolisms – blood clots in the lungs.

Hamid Mojibian, MD, director, Cardiac CT/MR Imaging, and Jeffrey Pollak, MD, recently became the first in Connecticut to perform the thrombectomy procedure, which does not require major surgery or clot-busting medications. 

A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a blood clot elsewhere in the body breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream into one or more of the arteries that supply blood to the lungs. PEs affect around one in 1,000 people in the U.S. annually and can cause damage to the lungs and other organs. Large or multiple clots can be deadly.

Previously, patients with large PEs were admitted to the intensive care unit to receive thrombolytics (clot-dissolving medications). In life-threatening situations, patients might require surgery to remove clots. 

With the new procedure, the physician inserts a catheter fitted with a suction device into a vein in the groin or neck via a small incision. The physician guides the catheter to the lung artery clot and applies suction to remove the clot. 

Mechanical devices have been used previously to break up PEs, but they’re less effective and generally required the use of thrombolytics, which can cause bleeding in other parts of the body.

“With this procedure, we can treat patients who have other conditions that make traditional PE treatments risky,” Dr. Pollak said. “It’s allowing us to save more lives.

”The results of the procedure can be dramatic – and fast. 

“We have had patients come in critically ill, unable to breathe, and as soon as we suction out the clots, the patient revives immediately,” Dr. Mojibian said. 

Said Kevin Kim, MD, YNHH section chief of Interventional Radiology, “This procedure can fundamentally revolutionize patient care.”