A Gentler Way to the Heart
Westchester resident Laurel Karas is pleased to be a kind of pioneer. When she required cardiac catheterization recently, her physician used an alternative method to thread the catheter into her body—a method that reduced bleeding risks and allowed her to return to her normal activities more quickly.
The 79-year-old retired career counselor, who has a history of heart disease, has undergone coronary artery bypass and aortic surgeries in the past. Last fall she needed further repairs done on her aorta. At that time, catheterization—the insertion of a thin tube through the body into the heart—was required to help the surgeon plan the procedure.
In most such procedures performed in the U.S., the catheter starts its journey to the heart in the femoral artery in the groin area. But Robert J. Timmermans, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at Westchester Medical Center, has mastered a different approach—one that is already widely used in Europe and Japan. Instead of entering through the femoral artery, he threads his instruments “transradially” into the body through the radial artery in the patient’s wrist. In many cases, this technique can mean less bleeding, less pain and a faster recovery.
It certainly did for Karas, mother of four and grandmother of four. “It’s fantastic,” she says. “I have had it done the traditional way, and this was the least painful, least invasive ever. I could be more active afterward, and it is just a tiny pin prick, so there is only a tiny scar.” Benefits go beyond comfort.
“This technique lowers the chances of bleeding by 50 percent,” Dr. Timmermans says. “The femoral artery is large and sits deep under the skin; the radial artery is smaller, closer to the skin and therefore easier to apply pressure to. With the new approach, patients can sit up immediately after the catheterization and can usually go home sooner.” The transradial procedure is challenging. Because two arteries supply blood to the hand, the doctor must be sure the second artery is working sufficiently just in case problems arise in the catheter. But it’s worth it, he believes. Although traditional catheterization is generally quite safe as well, “bleeding is not a benign problem,” he says.
He’s convinced that transradial catheterization will become the standard of care in the not-too-distant future. Says Karas, whose aortic surgery went well: “I have been recommending it to everyone I know.”
Related Read: Lifesaving Aortic Repair