When Andy Plank, 57, started having chest pain in early 2002, he knew he couldn’t wait. Plank has a family history of heart disease.
“My dad died of a heart attack at age 56 and all of his brothers passed away with the same disease, so I instantly knew this was something I needed to take action on,” he said.
Plank went to the emergency room at Ascension St. Thomas West in Nashville where doctors found he had a blockage in his right coronary artery. Shortly after, he had triple bypass surgery. Over the next 19 years, doctors provided Plank with stress and echo tests to monitor his blockage and he received multiple stents in his heart to try and repair his clogged arteries. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like anything was a long-term fix.
Earlier this year, Plank knew something was wrong again when he started getting short of breath.
“It was a familiar feeling,” he said. “I’ve felt this before, and I knew there was another blockage in my arteries.” When he went back, his doctor realized they needed to take additional action after finding that his right coronary artery was 100% blocked, again.
Doctors offered Plank an innovative approach. They performed a specialized coronary intervention opening a 100 percent blocked artery followed by intracoronary brachytherapy, a procedure that helps improve chest pain in patients with stents that have re-narrowed (sometimes called “collapsed”) and reduces the chance of them narrowing again in the future. Doctors are usually able to perform this procedure through the wrist instead of the groin, allowing patients to recover much quicker than with a traditional heart catheterization. Early this year, Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital West became the first Ascension hospital in the country, and the only medical facility in Tennessee, to offer intracoronary brachytherapy.
In May 2021, they performed the first part of Plank’s multi-stage procedure, opening his 100 percent blocked right coronary artery. He then returned to have the opened artery treated with radiation to keep the vessel open.
“My last appointment was at the end of July 2021 and (the doctor) was pleased with my recovery,” Plank said. “I am so happy with the outcome…and…have felt much better since the surgery. I am back to walking about three miles a day without any problems. I have high hopes this will be a permanent fix for a lingering problem.”