Research test helps clear blocked artery

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Martin Tetachuk talks about his heart operation involving an experimental stent. Garrett Cheen/Daily Inter Lake

When Martin Tetachuk shot a video, he didn't know his videography would turn him into a medical experiment.

Tetachuk, 67, of Rollins is a Lakeside real estate broker and a reserve Lake County Sheriff's deputy.

Other than some high blood pressure, he always has been in great shape.

The 5-foot, 11-inch, 205-pound married grandfather hunts. He can match a 25-year-old man on a stress-test treadmill.

Part of his job is to take videos of properties that are for sale.

After taking one video, Tetachuk played it back.

He heard himself gasping for breath on the video's soundtrack - something he never noticed before.

That sent Tetachuk to Dr. David Gorman in Polson and then to Dr. Mark Sanz at the International Heart Institute of Montana in Missoula for additional tests.

It turned out that the cross-section of one artery - dubbed "the widow maker" - on the outer surface of Tetachuk's heart was 80 percent clogged by plaque made up of cholesterol.

The Missoula clinic, coincidentally, was one of 65 heart centers testing a new type of stent for eventually U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

Stents are tiny, thin, ultra-short, mesh-like tubes inserted into arteries to clear blockages.

A basic problem is that plaque can regrow and ooze through the stent's mesh to reclog an artery. That happened in 30 to 50 percent of stent insertion cases within six months, according to Abbott Labs, a 120-year-old California medical research company.

Making the stents thicker created other problems, such as scarring up the blood vessel.

Abbott Labs has been experimenting with coating the stents with a drug called everolimus that is slowly released into the artery's wall around the stent to prevent plaque from regrowing.

The long-range effects of this drug-coated stent are still unknown, according to Abbott Labs, which has begun experimenting with the third generation of this procedure.

When Tetachuk was being checked out in 2005, the Abbott Labs company was running tests on the second-generation stent at 65 clinics, including the International Heart Institute of Montana, which routinely takes part in medical research trials.

The specific location of the blockage in Tetachuk's artery and his otherwise good health made him a prime candidate to test out the new stent, said Sanz, an interventional cardiologist.

Patients have a random chance of receiving an experimental stent being tested for FDA approval or an older-generation FDA-approved stent. Tetachuk ended up with the experimental stent, Sanz said.

"It was a leap of faith to go into a research trial," Sanz said.

But Tetachuk did not hesitate about having an experimental stent inserted inside him.

"Somebody's got to do it. Why not me?" he said, noting that two 65-year-old friends had died of unexpected heart attacks.

The actual operation was routine. Only the stent was different.

After the operation, Tetachuk didn't feel any different other than his huffing and puffing stopped.

He took blood-pressure pills and went to routine follow-up checkups in Missoula

Everything worked fine with the stent.

And overall, the second-generation drug-coated stent worked out well. The FDA approved it for routine use in July.

"I was thankful," Tetachuk said.

Reporter John Stang may be reached at 758-4429 or by e-mail at jstang@dailyinterlake.com

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