Absorbable Stents Offer Alternative for Wake Forest Baptist Cardiology Patients

February 17, 2017

Thomas Leroy Walls, of Independence, Virginia, noticed he became tired easily during routine activities like climbing stairs. So, the retired masonry worker went in for a stress test, but he passed out during the exam.

Doctors quickly diagnosed a clogged artery and sent him to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center where he was the first patient in the area to get a new type of stent.

The device, called the Absorb GT1 Bioresorbable Vascular Scaffold System, was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It is the first fully absorbable stent for the treatment of coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease.

Wake Forest Baptist is the first hospital in the region to offer this groundbreaking treatment.

Coronary artery disease is caused by the buildup of plaque that restricts the flow of blood to the heart, which can cause chest pain, shortness of breath and other symptoms and lead to heart attack and stroke. The condition is frequently treated with a procedure called angioplasty, in which a doctor guides a tiny balloon to the site of blockage, expands it to widen the narrowed artery and inserts a mesh coil called a stent in the artery to hold it open. Many stents are coated with drugs that help keep the artery from reclosing while it heals.

Most stents are made of metal and remain in the body permanently, which can produce negative side effects in some people. The Absorb scaffold, on the other hand, is gradually absorbed by the body and completely dissolves after about three years. Made of a biodegradable polymer, the device also releases a drug to limit the growth of scar tissue that can block the artery.

“The lifetime benefit of a metal-free coronary artery is better for some patients,” said David Zhao, M.D., chief of cardiovascular medicine and executive director of Wake Forest Baptist’s Heart and Vascular Center.

Walls was able to go home the day after he underwent the minimally invasive surgery to place the Absorb scaffold. These days, the 64-year-old is watching his diet, spending time with his grandchildren and enjoying an activity that he had to cut back on when he had difficulty breathing.

“I go to square dancing two to three times a week now,” he said. “And I’m doing fine. No problems at all.”

Zhao, an interventional cardiologist himself, said the new stent is an example of how advances in technology can quickly benefit patients.

“Many of our patients are really limited in terms of the quality of their lives because of their illness,” he said. “They have heart failure. They have a valve disease. They are coming in with a heart attack. The best part of our job is being able to help those patients.”

Wake Forest Baptist cardiologists participated in the Absorb clinical trials leading up to FDA approval.

Developed and manufactured by Abbott, a global health care company, the Absorb stent is currently available in more than 100 countries and has been used to treat more than 150,000 people worldwide.

Media Relations

Mac Ingraham: mingraha@wakehealth.edu, 336-716-3487