Morgan City man receives life-saving new heart treatment

Staff Report

A Morgan City man was the first in the United States to undergo a new treatment for heart failure, according to a news release from Cardiovascular Institute of the South.

On Feb. 3, Dr. Richard Abben, Cardiovascular Institute of the South cardiologist, and Dr. Edgar Feinberg, Houma’s cardiovascular surgeon, were the first in the United States to implant the Barostim neo device for the treatment of heart failure.

Joseph Stelly, 70, had a history of chronic heart problems, including hypertension, coronary stents, a pacemaker-defibrillator implantation and a weakened heart muscle. Because of these cardiovascular conditions, he suffered recurrent bouts of congestive heart failure, requiring multiple hospitalizations — as many as two within the past six weeks.

“Mr. Stelly has been experiencing significant fatigue, reduction of exercise capacity, fluid retention and severe shortness of breath, and these symptoms have been resistant to standard heart failure medications,” said Abben.

Heart failure is a condition where the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. It can be due to a heart attack, which damages the heart muscle. The main symptoms of heart failure are general fatigue or weakness, shortness of breath or swelling of the legs or ankles. Heart failure can worsen over time and without effective treatment, there is a risk of death within five years of being diagnosed, the cardiologist said.

“I could hardly walk. I was so short-winded,” Stelly said. “I couldn’t breathe.”

As with Stelly, many with heart failure continue to have symptoms despite medication and treatment. About one-third of patients with heart failure either do not qualify for or do not benefit from therapy for heart failure.

However, the new implantable device, called the Barostim neo, is being studied to determine its safety and effectiveness in treating moderate to severe heart failure. The pacemaker-like device painlessly stimulates natural sensors under the skin in the neck to send signals to the brain to regulate blood flow. Through this device, patients may experience improved blood pressure control, increased efficiency in cardiac function and improved flow to the organs as well as a reduction in heart failure symptoms, the doctors said.

Drs. Abben and Feinberg serve as the primary investigators for this research trial.

“Mr. Stelly’s severe heart failure problem persisted despite appropriate medical therapy and thus he seemed to be a good candidate for the Barostim neo implantation,” said Abben.

The implantation procedure lasted 65 minutes and was performed at Terrebonne General Medical Center.

Two weeks after the procedure, Stelly’s fatigue, shortness of breath and exercise capability were significantly improved.

“I can walk now. I can breathe,” he said. “Dr. Abben has been my doctor for a long time, and he saved my life.”

Abben said more of the devices may be implanted.

“As this is a device trial, the potential long-term benefits will not be understood until more patients are evaluated and the study completed, but we are certainly hopeful that (Stelly’s) gratifying improvement to this unique therapy will continue to progress, and that this technology can be successfully applied to a broader group of patients with the disabling condition of heart failure.” Abben said

To qualify for participation in this trial, patients must experience severe symptomatic heart failure while on optimal medical therapy and either do not qualify for or have not benefitted sufficiently from cardiac resynchronization therapy. If you think you may qualify, or if you are interested in learning more about the trial, call the Cardiovascular Institute of the South research department at 985-873-5613.

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