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Plugging a hole to prevent a stroke

Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 8:31 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - In very simple terms, when a newborn enters the world and takes its first breath, the hole between the two chambers of the heart closes to stop the blood from bypassing the lungs and allow the baby to finally breathe on its own. That’s the way it is supposed to work.

In one in four people, the hole doesn’t close.

Ironically, millions of those people never even know it.

That hole in the heart that doesn’t close on schedule is called a Patent Foramen Ovale, or PRO. It means that some blood could still leak from the right chamber to the left. But that’s not a problem unless the leaky blood ends up carrying a dangerous blood clot.

Dr. Mac Ansari is the Director of Structural and Interventional Cardiology Research at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. He says, “Some of these clots from the venous system can go through this (hole) to the arterial system and cause a stroke.” But Dr. Ansari wants patients with that kind of hole in the heart to know that there is a little disc that can literally plug that hole. He says, “There’s no cutting open the chest, no prolonged rehab, nothing like that, just a small plug to fix the problem and that’s it. So it’s really amazing and innovative.”

So how do you know if you have a PFO?

He says the best clue is a mini-stroke. Possible signs would include a period of imbalance or difficulty walking or talking, weakness on one side, sudden vision problems, or confusion. Even if it’s brief and even if you’re young and think ‘well, that was odd, but it passed’…. you need to see a doctor. He explains, “It is an emergency. If something is not functioning for some time, and then it starts functioning, we tend to ignore those signs. Those are the signs that you want to take seriously.”

Dr. Ansari says the next incident like that could be devastating. But tests can reveal if the problem is a PFO and a blood clot has slipped through that hole in the heart. If so, he says the solution is readily available. He explains, “You put a plugin, which is amazing because, in the olden days when the technology was not there, people would end up getting surgeries for this. And now you don’t need surgery, we can just go from the leg and plug the hole.” The procedure takes an hour or two and patients can go home the same or the next day. Dr. Ansari says he tells his patients after this procedure, “Rest a few days then you can tango on the weekend.”

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