More than 300,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year with blockages in their carotid arteries, which can lead to a dangerous stroke. Now, there’s a new, safer way to clear these arteries.
Biff Yeager has been an actor for more than 40 years. It’s a career he's passionate about.
"I just like to make people feel, I think," Yeager said.
But when Yeager recently found out he had a blockage in his carotid arteries, he had a new role to play — informed patient.
"I knew that if an artery was blocked, you could have brain damage or a stroke," Yeager said.
Traditionally, doctors repaired the problem with open surgery or a riskier stenting procedure performed through the groin.
"Doing that particular approach for stenting carries twice the stroke risk as doing the open operation," said Dr. Wesley Moore, professor and chief emeritus of the UCLA Gonda (Goldschmied) Vascular Center.
Now, with the "silk road" technique, surgeons enter directly through the neck to access the carotid arteries. To prevent pieces of debris from traveling to the brain, they temporarily reverse blood flow.
"So, if there are any bits of debris present, instead of going toward the brain, or into the brain, they go through a circuit external to the body, trapped in a filter," Moore explained.
A stent is placed to keep the artery open. Then, blood flow resumes to its normal direction.
Yeager stayed in the hospital just one night after his procedure, and now he can focus on landing that next part.
The new procedure doesn't require general anesthesia like the traditional, open surgery. In clinical trials, results show the procedure is as safe as the standard operation. There are about 19 centers in the United States participating in the clinical trial to test this new method.