Technology at Ascension heals patients, prevents dialysis

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DETROIT (WXYZ) — An estimated 940,000 adults in Michigan have chronic kidney disease, and many don’t even know it.

But a new technology is being tested at Ascension St. John’s Hospital for patients with heart and kidney disease that could steer them away from the dreaded kidney dialysis.

For one patient, it gave him a new mind about life and what the future holds for him and his way of life.

At 76, Dan Kowalski is an avid golfer who, prior to his retirement, noticed that his energy was starting to wane and he feared something was wrong.

“My feet started hurting, my leg started hurting, I started feeling tired,” Kowalski said.

He was advised to see Dr. Antonious Attallahwho thought he had a blockage in his heart.

“He said I might have one, maybe two, maybe three. I got a little alarmed, then I said, ‘Wait, now you’re not going to open my chest,’ explained Kowalski.

Kowalski’s biggest fear was dialysis after hearing horror stories from a dear friend who told him that his kidneys had been destroyed during a medical procedure.

“He had to undergo dialysis and he told me that he would rather die than undergo dialysis. He just got really depressed,” Kowalski said of his friend’s situation.

Under normal circumstances, when doctors look for blockages in your heart during a catheterization, they use nearly 100 cc’s of contrast dye to locate the blockage which is about equal.

“When a patient is on the table for cauterization or diagnostic surgery, we calculate the allocated amount of contrast material that we can use without injuring their kidneys,” Attallah said.

Attallah uses new technology to map a patient’s arteries like a puzzle. Using intravascular ultrasound, they identify the location of the blockage to decipher the diameter of the blood vessel and the length of the disease.

“We know before the patient leaves the table what kind of results we have,” Attallah said.

Attallah says there has been controversy over whether the contrast dye damages a patient’s kidneys. Thus, he dramatically reduces the amount of contrast dye he uses in the cath lab.

“We have to somehow find a way to minimize kidney injury from the dye,” Attallah said.

During Kowalski’s first visit, Attallah did what’s called a fractional flow reserve study to get the first pictures of the blockage.

“The entire first procedure was done with about 12 cc’s of dye in total,” Attallah said.

Attallah then consults a nephologist, who is a nephrologist. Attallah says that in the past, a patient like Kowalski with a blockage would have been sent home with medication only instead of surgery for fear his kidneys would be damaged.

Due to the potential for harm, many patients are not allowed to have the procedure even if they need it.

“We have patients who come in with a heart attack and aren’t taken to the cath lab because of it,” Attallah said.

Now, with this new technology, using ultrasound and less contrast dye, the risk of lifelong kidney damage and dialysis is greatly reduced and a patient like Kowalski can enjoy life again.

“I feel great, I just started rehab,” Kowalski said.

As for his thoughts on Attallah after another doctor told him he would probably end up on dialysis.

“I feel blessed to have had Dr. Attallah and I didn’t have a heart attack,” Kowalski said.

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