Local News

Machine Gives Heart Patients New Outlook On Life

Posted April 9, 2003 4:38 a.m. EDT

— Heart patients have all types of procedures and medications to help them live longer but many say their quality of life could be better.

Now, those patients have an option.

Cardiologists at the

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

and other hospitals are using an old procedure to help give some patients a new outlook on life.

"I've had open heart surgery, I've had 5 angioplasties," said Kenneth Strayhorn.

He has had many different heart procedures.

"I've had a pacemaker put in, I've had 17 heart cauterizations," said Strayhorn. "I couldn't walk. I couldn't do anything."

Strayhorn said a machine called Enhanced External Counterpulsation, or EECP, gave him back his life.

Heart patients lay on the padded table with cuffs on their legs.

When the heart is at rest, the machine's cuffs inflate.

This procedure increases blood flow to the heart.

As the heart contracts, the cuffs deflate, which makes pumping blood easier.

"It decreases the work load of the heart," said Dr. Magnus Ohman the chief of cardiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Studies showed that EECP reduces chest pain and improves quality of life.

"This is exciting for us because it allows us one more avenue to take better care of our patients," said Ohamn.

Strayhorn said the machine looks a little strange, but it is not painful.

"No pain whatsoever. It just scares you when you start," he said.

The procedure takes commitment, however.

"Each treatment is an hour and there are 35 treatments over seven weeks," said Ohman.

Strayhorn said it is worth his time. Now he can walk anywhere without chest pain.

"That's the strongest part about me. My legs give out but my heart's in good shape," he said.

EECP results typically lasted from one to five years.

Doctors said not every heart patient is a candidate, especially people with severe hypertension, diseased heart valves and circulation problems in their legs.