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How one man regained his freedom with carotid stenting

Michael Todd Whetzel was brought back from the brink

Michael Todd Whetzel used to be an adrenaline junkie. When he was younger, he raced motorcycles and water skied. But Whetzel, who is 58 and retired from the trucking industry, had to slow down in recent years due to a stroke in 2012 and a heart attack in 2018.

A stroke slowed down Michael Todd Whetzel’s lifestyle, but carotid stenting helped him resume exercise and feel better.

Following his heart attack, doctors at Augusta Health placed two stents in Whetzel’s heart. Despite surviving, his heart-pumping function dropped to just 20 percent of his pre-heart attack capacity and never returned to normal—a change that impacted Whetzel’s physical activity.

“I didn’t want to do anything,” he says. “Well, I wanted to in my mind, but my body didn’t want to. Just going to the grocery store was a feat for me.”

Unexpected Blockage

In the fall of 2019, Whetzel visited his eye doctor, who noticed Whetzel had a carotid bruit, an abnormal sound that emanates from the carotid artery, which supplies the brain with blood. An ultrasound revealed Whetzel had a 90 percent blockage in his right carotid artery.

Whetzel visited Augusta Health in October 2019 and met with cardiologist Ashkan Karimi, MD. There were two options available to fix the blockage in Whetzel’s artery: open surgery or carotid stenting.

“We talked to Mike about the increased risk associated with open surgery,” Dr. Karimi says. “Considering his heart condition, the stenting was lower-risk in terms of cardiovascular problems.”

Whetzel opted for carotid stenting.

An Excellent Alternative

Carotid stenting is a fairly specialized procedure—only a few hospitals the size of Augusta Health currently do it, as it requires a specific skill set, Dr. Karimi says.

Whetzel was the first patient at Augusta Health to undergo carotid stenting. The Cardiology Department worked with both the Neurology Department and Intensive Care Unit nurses to develop a protocol.

The procedure is minimally invasive and done without general anesthesia. Patients are typically monitored for just one day before being discharged.

“People recover very quickly, and they don’t have any incisions on their neck,” Dr. Karimi says.

Carotid stenting works like this: A doctor inserts a catheter into an artery in the patient’s groin or wrist and advances the catheter through the body to the blocked carotid artery. The blockage is then crossed with a small wire and a filter is placed to catch any plaque that breaks off and prevent it from traveling to the brain. The doctor then uses a small balloon
to expand the artery and places a stent to allow blood to flow through the artery.

Dr. Karimi says carotid stenting is designed for a specific subset of patients. The procedure is ideal for patients like Whetzel who have a high risk for open surgery due to previous cardiac events that affect their heart-pumping function. In addition, carotid stenting is better than open surgery for patients who’ve had radiation treatment; patients who have a blockage that’s hard to access; or patients who previously had surgery and whose carotid artery has become blocked again.

“We’re happy to offer this alternative to open surgery to our patients in the community,” Dr. Karimi says.

Back on Track

Whetzel’s carotid stenting was done on February 6, 2020. He says the procedure was simple and easy, with just a one-night stay in the hospital.

“The recovery—there was nothing to it,” Whetzel says. “From Dr. Karimi and my visits at the doctor’s office to the nurses who helped me before and afterward—everything has just been A+.”

Although Whetzel’s heart function will never be back to 100 percent because of his pre-existing conditions, he’s made significant improvements since the carotid stenting. He’s begun returning to his daily activities, like visiting the grocery store and mowing the lawn.

“I’m not back to my regular self, and I probably never will be,” he says. “But I’ve been exercising a bit, I sleep better, and, overall, I just feel better. I’m proud to be here.”

To learn more about carotid stenting, visit augustahealth.com/heart or call (540) 245-7080.