Holes for the Heart

PHOENIX "My teeth are good," Marion Cook told Ivanhoe. "My hearing leaves a little to be desired. My memory's terrible."

But even at 89, not much can slow Cook down. Competitive skating was his passion. Now, chest pains force him to use a different set of wheels to get around.

"My limitation is my heart arteries are not providing enough blood, and I just can't physically do very much," Cook said.

Cook is weak ... and not a candidate for stents or surgery. Doctors now have another option. Using a specially designed laser, doctors drill holes in his heart.

"What these holes do is they deliver new blood flow to the heart muscle through these small channels, as well as those holes denervate the heart, meaning they numb or dampen the sensation of chest pain," Grayson Wheatley, M.D., a cardiovascular surgeon at the Arizona Heart Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., told Ivanhoe.

The laser creates microscopic channels that stimulate the heart muscle.

"You think about drilling a hole in the heart, and it might spring a leak, but they're small channels," Dr. Wheatley said. "We know that these small channels serve as a stimulus for the heart to try to repair itself."

For patients, it means less pain within days after surgery. Now, Cook says he's ready to skate away ... if only he had a little better balance.

"If it wasn't for that, I'd be going to start putting my skates back on!" he said.

Cook will settle for his other wheels, as long as he can put his pain behind him.

The holes created during the surgery eventually close but leave behind new cells and chemicals that regenerate the heart. Dr. Wheatley says there is no risk of leaks since the holes created are microscopic. Researchers are exploring the possibility of injecting stem cells into those channels to potentially reverse the damage of heart disease.

Arizona Heart Institute
(602) 266-2200

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