'Guinea pig' saved by revolutionary heart stents

By Katie Holland


A revolutionary heart disease treatment that saved a Rotorua man's life is now available in New Zealand.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in New Zealand, resulting in 40 per cent of deaths annually. Alan Cleverley could have been one of them.

Mr Cleverley, now 69, was one of about 100 Kiwi "guinea pigs" who took part in the Absorb heart stent trials. The polymer Absorb stents prop blocked heart vessels open, allowing blood to flow. Unlike conventional metal stents they dissolve into the body once the vessel is able to support itself, leaving no permanent trace.

Mr Cleverley had three metal stents inserted about eight years ago by Dr John Ormiston, medical director at Mercy Angiography in Auckland. Then, three years ago, he began thinking something wasn't right.

"I felt stuffed and I couldn't hardly walk far and people were saying to me you look pale. I had no pain but I just thought I shouldn't be feeling like this."

He was sent for a check-up and put on a treadmill.

"I lasted a minute and a quarter and he said 'stop don't take one more pace, lie down'. He said 'you've got to go for an angiogram urgently, it's not looking too good'."

The angiogram revealed two more of his arteries were 95 per cent blocked and there was virtually no blood was passing through them.

Dr Ormiston, who was by then involved with the Absorb trials, told Mr Cleverley he needed an urgent operation.

He gave Mr Cleverley the choice between having more metal stents or becoming part of the dissolvable stent trial, which he described as a breakthrough in medical science.

"I said 'if it was you what would you do' and he said 'I would do it'," said Mr Cleverley. "You put your life in their hands, you do. I have total and utter faith in that guy [Dr Ormiston]."

The procedure, where two stents were inserted up through his arm, took a few hours and the results were immediate.

"My life just completely changed when I walked out the door," he said. "It's hard to explain ... when it's happening to you the change is so so gradual. You gradually lose your strength, your focus, your ability to do things physically, mentally even. Then all of a sudden it's back again."

Mr Cleverley was monitored for a year and still receives regular calls and check-ups but has suffered no ill effects.

He said he didn't know if the metal stents would have had the same effect, but he felt better about receiving the dissolvable ones.

"[With] these ones I have more confidence they won't require any more attention. With the old ones it's always a risk the fat will grow back through, these ones it won't. They completely disappear in your body whereas I still have the metal inside me from the first ones."

With his new lease of life, Mr Cleverly and wife Dawn have set to work renovating the Rotorua Motel, one of two they own in the city.

And he had no hesitation in recommending the treatment to "anybody who ever gets to the state I was in, or even long before it hopefully".

New Zealand played a key role in pioneering the treatment, with Tauranga man John Lamb the first person in the world to receive Absorb as part of a clinical trial in 2006.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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