Nearly 40 percent of people who suffer from a pulmonary embolism - that's a blood clot in the lungs - also face major heart problems.
They appear fine and doctors often miss it. Now, a new treatment is using ultrasound energy to stop those clots and save lives.
59-year-old Thomas Raspet loves to exercise. "I try to workout every day to some extent, consisting either of running, weights, exercise equipment, swimming or biking." So, when he had trouble finishing a 10-mile race last year, he knew something was wrong. "I was short of breath. My times were pathetic, really slow. I was almost fearful I wouldn't finish."
It turns out that Raspet had a massive blood clot lodged in his lungs. It was so big that it was pushing on his chest.
"First time it happened, I had no indication as to what it was. I thought I was having a heart attack. I had severe pressure on my heart. I was out of breath."
Dr. Keith Sterling, a radiologist explains, "Mr. Raspet had a sub-massive pulmonary embolism so he looked fine but he had extensive pulmonary embolism."
And that embolism was causing his heart to work harder, causing right heart failure, a condition that can lead to severe hypertension and death.
While most clots are treated with clot-busting medication called TPA, radiologist Dr Sterling told him his condition was too severe. Simply using drugs wouldn't be enough.
Instead, they got his consent to try a new device. Still in clinical trials. It is a special catheter called the â??ekosâ??.
Dr. Sterling explains, "It delivers not only the thrombolytic medication through the catheter, but it also has ultrasound energy that helps loosen up the clot and allows thrombolytic or the TPA to work faster and more effectively."
Using the special catheter also reduces the amount of drugs a patient needs. Therefore, Thomas Raspet only needed about a quarter of the medication that he otherwise would have used if he was treated with drugs alone.
Raspet says "the recovery time here was about three weeks before I was back resembling my strength."
Raspet says he's made a full recovery though doctors still monitor him for new clots every few weeks. Heâ??s also gotten back to exercising. Doctors say he should avoid marathons, but his goal is to run a half-marathon next year.
Raspetâ??s reaction: "There is some concern for a full marathon, the pounding on the feet that would then stimulate more clotting. And, why take the risk? Do 13 miles and enjoy it."
After treating Thomas Raspet for two pulmonary embolisms, doctors figured out that it was blood disorder causing them to occur. Heâ??s now on blood thinners to treat the condition.