Lives Saved by Andreas Gruentzig
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(1939 - October 27, 1985)
Born in Germany
Year of Discovery: 1976
Developed Angioplasty - Starting With Homemade Materials at His Kitchen Table.
In the early 1970s, Andrea Gruentzig, a young German doctor, speculated that a balloon could transform the way doctors treat heart disease. Angioplasty is a procedure that is done to reduce or eliminate blockages in the arteries around the heart so that blood flow can be restored to blood-deprived heart tissue. Removing or reducing the blockage lessens chest pain and reduces the need for some medications for most patients. Gruentzig had learned a method of angioplasty years earlier in Nuremburg. This is a procedure in which a thin tube (catheter) is passed through the interior opening of the blood vessel (the lumen) to treat the unhealthy build up of plaque (atherosclerosis). When he began his practice in Zurich, he considered the advantage of adding an inflatable component to the catheter. Amazingly, he began developing trial versions of this balloon catheter in his own kitchen, searching for possible options for the material and design. By 1975 he had developed a double-lumen catheter (a single catheter tube with two separate channels) fitted with a polyvinylchloride balloon-it was this balloon, first developed at his kitchen table, that revolutionized cardiac treatment.
Before long, Gruentzig began animal studies with his prototype and presented his findings at the 1976 meeting of the American Heart Association. But, he was disappointed to be met with skepticism from many of his colleagues who did not share his enthusiasm for the new device. However, Dr. Richard Myler, did see the potential of the balloon catheter and invited Gruentzig to San Francisco. Together they performed the very first human coronary angioplasty on an anesthetized patient, during bypass surgery. In 1977, back in Zurich, Gruentzig performed the same surgery on a patient who was awake.
Sadly, Gruentzig and his wife died in an airplane crash in Georgia on October 27, 1985. He was just 46 years old. His impact on the field of medicine was tremendous, with his breakthrough technique providing surgeons a less invasive means than "open" surgeries to treat coronary artery disease. There are over 2 million angioplasties performed each year, making it one of the most common procedures performed in hospitals around the world.
Introduction by April Ingram
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Russian Society of Interventional Cardioangiologists biography:
Emory Healthcare biography:
Journey into the heart, by David Monagan, discusses Gruentzig in great detail:
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