New procedure helps people survive deadly heart infections

BURBANK, Calif. (KGO) -- A new procedure is helping patients survive deadly heart infections without having to go through open-heart surgery. ABC7 News learned doctors are now able to vacuum the infection out instead.

Heart patient Carlton Davis is grateful to his doctor. He said, "Basically, he saved my life. I didn't think I was going to live. I really didn't, I felt so horrible."

In December, the 70-year-old Southern California artist suffered a heart infection caused by a wire from his pacemaker.

More than 100,000 Americans get pacemakers every year and the complication rate relatively low. But the wires, known as leads, can cause infection.

"When you have something like this hanging on one of the wires it can break loose. And if it breaks loose, the infection can go to the lungs," Raymond H.M. Schaerf, M.D. from Providence St. Joseph Medical Center said.

Davis wasn't well enough to have open heart surgery. So he became an early recipient of the AngioVac procedure. Using specialized ultrasound, a thin tube is threaded to the infected area, through a neck or leg vein, to literally vacuum out the infected tissue.

"We can advance the catheter so we can either try to suck this off the wire, or when we take the wires out, as we did in his case, it breaks loose and goes into the chamber," Schaerf said.

Doctors ultimately removed a blockage several inches long. Carlton Davis is feeling well enough now, to plan a future art show in New York.

"When he woke up after the surgery, he looked at me and said, 'You know, I feel good for the first time in weeks.'"

"And now, I'm going to make this show, and things are looking up," Davis said.

The AngioVac is commonly used to remove blood clots, but it has also been used on an experimental basis to remove cancerous tumors from the inside of veins.
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