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Deep Vein Thrombosis Treatment Yields Priceless Payoff

Deer Valley Hospital interventional radiologist Aaron Wittenberg, MD, uses a new technology to yield the ultimate return: saving the life of patient — a young woman whose father is an investor in the life-saving technology.

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Deer Valley Hospital interventional radiologist Aaron Wittenberg, MD (center), with Warren and Kim Kaplan.

When Scottsdale businessman Warren Kaplan decided a decade ago to invest in Possis Medical, he had no idea that an innovative medical product Possis would develop would — in the hands of a gifted interventional radiologist — save his daughter's life.

"I liked their business model," Warren says. "They were inventing products with great potential, but they were also marketing them in a way that would ensure continuing sales."

A savvy investor, Warren not only checked out the company before he bought its stock, but kept in touch, and continued to research products in development.

With support from Warren's investment, Possis pioneered technology to save the lives and limbs of patients suffering from circulation-blocking blood clots. They manufactured medical machinery to quickly, safely and effectively remove deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the medical name for blood clots in the veins.

The Anatomy of a Clot

Whenever a blood vessel — a vein or an artery — is injured, platelets in the blood trigger chemical reactions that form strands into a meshwork, a screen that traps more platelets. Thus, a clot is formed. On the skin, this stops the bleeding and starts the healing.

Inside the vein or artery, however, the clot will begin to block blood flow. Pressure in front of the blockage builds up. Sometimes vessel walls can burst or leak.

Beyond the blocked area, without fresh blood, the muscle tissue is damaged, sometimes forever. This is often painful and can be dangerous. Pieces of the clot can break off and be carried to the lungs, causing a condition called pulmonary embolism, leading to physical disability — even death.

If the clot remains in the vein over time, patients can develop DVT symptoms such as chronic pain, swelling or even skin ulcerations that can lead to limb loss.

A Pharmaceutical "Roto-Rooter"

Possis' AngioJet Rheolytic Thrombectomy System, which premiered in 1997, remains the medical world's leading mechanical clot-removing system.

Think of it as a tiny, sensitive, sophisticated combination of pharmaceutical roto-rooter and vacuum cleaner. Because it works with catheters threaded through a vein to reach the clot, it requires no incisions or surgery.

As its clot-busting drug physically breaks the clot into pieces, the vacuum catheter sucks the tiny bits out of the body. A filter prevents any bits from escaping into the blood stream where they could wreak havoc in other parts of the body.

By the time his daughter Kim was diagnosed with a DVT last fall, Warren was well-aware of the latest advances and performance capabilities of AngioJet products. When doctors at the first hospital Kim was taken used only blood thinners for treatment, Warren started asking questions.

"I tracked down their interventional radiologists, the doctors who do these procedures," Warren says. "What I found was that they had the AngioJet technology, but they only used it for cardiac clots. They didn't know how to use it to treat DVTs."

Life-Saving Call

Appalled, Warren got on the phone to Possis, tracked down their Arizona representative, Alan Poland, and asked a blunt question. "If it were your mother who needed DVT treatment, which doctor would you call for help?"

"I didn't hesitate," Alan says. "I told Warren to contact Aaron Wittenberg, MD, a board-certified interventional radiologist at John C. Lincoln Deer Valley Hospital."

"Dr. Wittenberg not only has extensive experience in using the AngioJet, but he is amazingly down-to-earth, compassionate and easy to talk with," Warren observes.

"He used ultrasound to diagnose the extent of Kim's clot — which extended from her thigh to her abdomen — and then he gave us a clear description of her condition and what he could do to help."

Dr. Wittenberg immediately scheduled Kim for the AngioJet treatment for DVT at John C. Lincoln Deer Valley Hospital, during which he inserted the catheter into the vein behind her knee and vacuumed the clot out of her vein.

The filter stayed in place for the next four to five months to be sure that no part of the clot was able to travel out of her leg into her lungs.

"You have to be aggressive in treating these larger clots in order to have optimal outcomes," Dr. Wittenberg says.

"In serious cases like Kim's, blood thinners like Heparin or Coumadin just won't do the job. But by using the AngioJet, we can get rid of the clot in a matter of minutes. This prevents any long-term damage from the DVT."

"Dr. Wittenberg took great care of my daughter," Warren says, "So did the entire staff at the Deer Valley hospital. Every nurse who took care of her, from pre-surgery on through her stay, was just wonderful. I am very grateful to all of them."

Learn more about the Deep Vein Thrombosis Program at John C. Lincoln Hospital by visiting JCL.com/dvt.

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