New Surgery Technique Could Improve Quality Of Life After 'Widow-Maker' Heart Attacks

Oct 4, 2017

UPDATED: Oct. 6, 2017 at 12:14 p.m.

Doctors at UPMC have performed a cutting edge form of surgery to repair the heart after severe heart attacks for the first time in the United States.

Less Invasive Ventricular Enhancement, or LIVE, uses anchors to fold over scar tissue that can result from a particular type of massive heart attack affecting the left anterior descending artery which runs down the front side of the heart.

“When this artery in front of the heart clogs off, it’s called the widow-maker,” said Catalin Toma, director of interventional cardiology at UPMC.

He estimated that about 5 percent of people who have had heart attacks in the past could benefit from such a surgery.

A massive heart attack can increase the size of the heart which makes it pump less efficiently. The new surgical technique corrects that problem.
Credit UPMC

“In prior years the only option for these patients was medication or open-chest surgery,” Akshay Lele, spokesperson for the firm BioVentrix which developed the procedure, said in an email. “Medication doesn’t treat the symptoms of heart failure, it merely slows down the progression of heart failure.”

The patient who received the surgery at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland was a 42-year-old woman who had had a heart attack one year earlier. Toma said she suffered from shortness of breath and fatigue just going about daily activities and medications were not effective in managing her symptoms.

The surgery, which took place August 29, was the first in a multiple-year clinical trial to be conducted at UPMC. Toma said the company which developed the LIVE technique, San Ramon, Calif.-based BioVentrix, approached UPMC as the first U.S. health system to participate in the trial because of the volume of patients it sees and the existing bureaucratic structures needed to perform clinical trials.

According to BioVentrix, clinical outcomes have been “very positive,” with a 20 percent increase in the heart’s pumping efficiency after the procedure.

Toma said though the LIVE procedure is the only surgical option available for people who have experienced “widow-maker” heart attacks and continue to suffer from severe symptoms, it cannot address the underlying cause of the heart attack.

“It’s a permanent implant but it’s a temporary solution in that it fixes the mechanical issue,” Toma said. “The heart remains weak and the piece of muscle that’s dead is dead, it’s not coming back.”

*This post was updated to include comments from BioVentrix.