Intermountain Healthcare now performing treatment of rare, life-threatening lung condition CTEPH

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Intermountain Healthcare’s Intermountain Medical Center is one of only a handful of hospitals in the western United States to offer a complex surgical procedure to treat patients with chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH).

The procedure, which is called PTE, or pulmonary thromboendarterectomy, is an intricate surgery that removes deadly chronic blood clots from arteries in the lungs. During the procedure, surgeons actually stop the heart, reduce the body temperature, and allow a machine to take over the work of the heart and lungs. 

“It’s a very delicate surgery that takes eight to 10 hours,” said Mark Dodson, MD, PhD, medical director of the chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension program at Intermountain Medical Center. “During that time, the patient is put on a heart-lung bypass machine, and their circulation is actually stopped for 20 minutes at a time to provide a clean field for the surgeon to access the clots.” 

“In order to remove the clots, we split the wall of the pulmonary artery into layers and then remove the inner layer,” said William T. Caine, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon at Intermountain Heart Institute. “The chronic clots then come out with removal of this inner layer.”

Megan Carpenter, 39, said the surgery gave her back her life.

In March 2017, the mother of three noticed going to the grocery store felt like running a marathon. 

“I was extremely exhausted and just wanted to sleep all the time, but I knew someone my age shouldn’t be this tired,” said Carpenter.

Doctor’s diagnosed her with CTEPH – a long-term complication that occurs in some patients who’ve had a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot that travels to the lungs. 

When clinicians treat a pulmonary embolism, they normally use blood thinners to help dissolve the clots and prevent new ones from forming. But in patients with CTEPH, the clots don’t dissolve, but become incorporated into the walls of the blood vessels in the lungs, which leads to a rise in blood pressure and strain on the heart.

In the United States, some 300,000 people experience a pulmonary embolism every year and 3 to 4 percent are diagnosed with CTEPH.

“Diagnosing CTEPH patients and getting patients the help they need in a timely manner is extremely critical, as there are several treatments that can help patients with CTEPH and significantly improve the quality of their lives,” said Dr. Dodson. “We are very proud and excited that we can now offer PTE surgery here at Intermountain Medical Center, so patients with CTEPH can be treated in their own community.”

Without treatment, these blood clots cause damage to the heart and lungs. The condition can also lead to heart failure and possibly death.

Carpenter said she received her lifeline on December 11, 2018 – the date of her PTE surgery. 

Immediately following the surgery, she could already tell the difference.

“I took a big, deep, full breath. I hadn’t been able to do that for almost two years,” she said.

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