Greeley man gets first dissolving heart stent in Colorado |

Greeley man gets first dissolving heart stent in Colorado

Kelly Ragan

At 70 years old, Stephen Hoffelt of Greeley still plays on the same drum set his dad bought for him in the '60s. Hoffelt and his band play gigs at local country clubs and assisted living homes, jamming to songs from the '50s and '60s. He loves to walk his dog and keep up with his grandkids.

One day, his chest tightened, and his breath was cut short. He reached up and fell down, fracturing his wrist. Hoffelt learned he had coronary artery disease and two blockages.

Doctor Anthony Doing, a cardiologist at UCHealth, explained the disease. Blocked arteries are like blocked fuel lines in a car. The car might run fine when it idles, but if you try to drive up a hill, it stalls.

Doctor Matthew Purvis, UCHealth's interventional cardiologist, implanted a dissolvable stent into Hoffelt's artery Aug. 8.

“We had two gigs that week and here I am lying in a hospital. Stephen Hoffelt

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It was the first dissolvable stent implanted in a person in Colorado since the FDA approved the device in July.

The week after his surgery, Hoffelt had to sit out one of his band's gigs.

"We had two gigs that week and here I am lying in a hospital," Hoffelt said. "Dr. Purvis said 'you can't play on Wednesday'. I said, 'what about Friday?' He said we could play it by ear."

Hoffelt played that Friday. He admitted he was a sweaty mess, but he showed up. He let his wife help him unload the drums, per the doctor's orders.

The stent is made of Poly-L-lactide, a type of plastic.

"It's the same plastic they use for absorbable sutures," Doing said. "It's a pretty firm device. It takes between two to three years to reabsorb. It's implanted in essentially the same procedure."

Cardiologists implant the stent using a catheter to slide a tiny balloon through the artery. They inflate the balloon to crack open the plaque obstructing blood flow. They deploy the stent and use more balloons to ensure it's properly placed, Doing said.

The stent then dissolves when it's no longer needed. It's like a cast on a broken arm, Doing said. Once the arm is stronger, you take the cast off.

Using dissolving stents instead of traditional metal ones helps reduce the risk of future blockages.

It also gives patients a bit more leeway with their long-term treatment.

Once a patient has a stent, they have to take aspirin — a common blood thinner — every day for the rest of their lives. So, if 10 years down the road the patient has knee surgery, they cannot miss a dose of aspirin without risk of clotting.

"The advantage of the bioabsorabable stent seems to be that you may not need lifelong aspirin quite so much," Doing said. "We'd probably still give it anyway. But if you miss it for a day or two or get a surgical procedure, hopefully the ramifications won't be as harmful."

Long-term results in Europe, which has been using dissolvable stents since 2011, seem to be going favorably, Doing said.

The use of dissolvable stent technology might expand.

"Metal stents weren't used in other arteries until they were used in the heart first," Doing said.

More applications will likely develop, Doing said.

Hoffelt will do cardiac rehab and build the strength back up to mow the lawn again. In the meantime, he'll be jamming on his drums.

"I feel blessed, blessed, blessed," Hoffelt said.

What is coronary artery disease?

Coronary artery disease occurs when arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked due to plaque buildup, leading to chest pain and increasing the risk of a heart attack.

— Source: UCHealth