St. Mary’s Offers First-of-Its-Kind Dissolvable Stent

St. Mary’s newest heart stent performs a feat that would invoke the envy of many a magician: It can disappear before your very eyes. Don’t be fooled, though; while it may seem like a magic trick, this new device is actually just the Absorb stent, the first FDA-approved dissolvable stent.

The Absorb stent found its latest home at St. Mary’s in October of 2016, making St. Mary’s the first health system in the region to utilize the device. The innovative stent strengthens St. Mary’s range of treatments in the ongoing fight against the most lethal killer of men and women in the country - heart disease.

Blockage Buster

Coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease, occurs when one of your arteries gets clogged. This blockage denies your heart the blood and oxygen it needs, leading to a number of uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath.

There are several treatment options for a blocked artery, but one of the most common is angioplasty. During this procedure, a balloon-tipped catheter is inserted into the artery (through a spot in the groin or arm) and moved to the blockage. The balloon inflates, and a stent is installed to keep the artery open.

Traditional stents come in two varieties: bare metal stents or drug-eluting stents, which are metallic stents that are coated with a drug to promote healing. Both of these types of stents remain in your artery permanently.

After a while, though, that stent is no longer needed. The blockage is gone, blood and oxygen are flowing normally, and new tissue has grown over the old, damaged tissue. Your artery is healed, but the stent remains.

What sets the Absorb stent apart is its unique construction. Made with dissolvable, non-metallic materials, the Absorb stent evaporates in approximately three years, leaving behind only two small platinum markers behind so doctors can find where the stent was placed in future scans.

More Than a Magic Trick

The Absorb stent’s great disappearing act isn’t just an empty illusion. For one, it provides all the same benefits of traditional metal stents. The Absorb stent props open the segment of the artery that’s blocked, allowing blood and oxygen flow to return. During the first few months, the artery needs the stent to remain open.

By the time the Absorb stent dissolves, the artery has healed enough that it can stay open on its own. New cells take the place of the Absorb stent, and the artery can move and flex naturally again. In many ways, it’s a natural evolution of the stent.

“When you break a bone and get a cast, the cast comes off once the bone has healed, providing you a full range of motion. This is what we can now offer many patients through the Absorb stent,” said Dr. Casino, interventional cardiologist. St. Mary’s is the first in the region to use the dissolvable stent.

While the Absorb stent is an exciting new development, it’s not quite ready to be used for each patient. The dissolvable stent is currently only available in a relatively limited number of sizes when compared to traditional metallic stents. Additionally, there are certain places in the heart where metallic stents might still be preferred.

But for patients who are eligible for the Absorb stent, there’s no question the magical device makes a difference.

“With Absorb, we’re able to leave a patient’s options open should they need future intervention,” Dr. Casino notes. “It allows us to more effectively treat those patients who may not be ideal for a metallic stent.”

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