AUSTIN -- One of the biggest fears for surgeons operating on the carotid artery in the neck is dislodging plaque. If that happens, it's only a short distance to the brain, where it can cause a stroke.
What if they could reverse the blood flow -- sending that harmful plaque away from the brain? That device now exists, and Austin is the focal point of a national study testing its effectiveness.
"I guess you'd call it a 17-foot ski boat," said Peter Gulla, a 67-year-old carotid artery disease patient.
Gulla, a Jonestown resident, loves to show off the boat he's overhauling. It's got 144 horsepower. But Gulla hasn't had much get up and go for most of this year.
"If you don't have blood flow you're not going to go very far," he said.
Like heart disease, plaque builds up in the artery.
"The problem is that plaque can sometimes break off, become unstable, and go to the brain and lead to strokes," said Mazin Foteh, M.D., a vascular surgeon with Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons and Heart Hospital of Austin.
Until recently there have been two treatment options for carotid artery disease, but both present their own challenges. Traditional surgery is invasive and can be risky in more complex patients. The second option, traditional stenting, carries an increased risk of stroke during the procedure. That’s because plaque particles are more likely to break off and travel to the brain. Now the Silk Road System device affords surgeons a third option.
"This device actually reverses the flow within the internal carotid artery," said Foteh."It pulls the flow out of the brain. If any plaque were to break off it would be sucked into the device and not go up to the brain."
Foteh is the principal investigator for a nationwide study testing the effectiveness of the Silk Road System. Gulla is the first in Texas to take part in the study. He went in and out of the hospital in one day.
"I started to notice a big difference in the morning when I woke up," said Gulla. "It didn't take me an hour to wake up and get the cobwebs out, you know."
Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons is enrolling patients now to take part in this study. It's called the Roadster Trial. Gulla says he can't help but marvel at the technology.
"Reversing your blood flow, that's pretty amazing. It really is,” he said.
Now when his boat is ready to go Gulla will be ready to take the helm.