May 05, 2008
A treatment approved by the FDA for extremely high levels of cholesterol nearly eight years ago is just now starting to see the light of day because Medicare is approving payment for it. For patients with extremely high levels of bad cholesterol, the procedure can make the numbers drop in just two hours time.
It’s called Liposorber, and it is much like kidney dialysis, where all the toxins are filtered out of the blood. With Liposorber, the procedure filters out just one thing… LDL, or bad cholesterol. But for patients with very high cholesterol levels, and for whom medicines and diet have failed, this is an amazing answer.
Peggy Vardeman is one of those patients. Just 8 months ago, Peggy thought she was living on borrowed time. She believed the precious time with her family, her grandchildren, was running out. “I never thought I’d be around when she grew up,” Peggy claims. An inherited condition gave her very high cholesterol levels in spite of a healthy diet, exercise and maxed out doses of cholesterol lowering medicines. Her disease meant a history of repeated heart attacks, open heart surgeries, angioplasties and stents.
Dr. Laurence Sperling is Peggy’s cardiologist. He is the director of Preventative Cardiology at Emory University Hospital. He began treating Peggy with the Liposorber treatments, which she now gets twice a week. The machine performs what’s called aphaeresis. It literally washes away the bad, or LDL cholesterol from the blood. Like kidney dialysis, the machine cleans the blood by filtering out the bad cholesterol. The LDL cholesterol that was removed gets collected in a bag at the bottom. It looks like cloudy yellow fluid. As Peggy’s nurse puts it, “that’s the bad stuff there.”
“It’s actually the most dramatic therapy we have to lower cholesterol,” reports Dr. Sperling. “We can take somebody’s cholesterol from 500 down to 50 or 60 after a two hour treatment, and this can be a very important therapy for patients like Ms. Vardeman, and a life-saving therapy.”
Peggy says, “I knew this was my only hope. I thought if I want to live this is what I have to do. It’s a miracle.”
Dr. Sperling says that Liposorber is not for the average person with high cholesterol and it’s not even for most people who’ve had to go through a heart bypass procedure, for example. But, for the rare individual with high cholesterol who has failed standard traditional treatments including maximum doses of cholesterol lowering medications, then Liposorber can be a lifesaver.
Peggy’s numbers dramatically went down. But more importantly, the chest pains she battled that came back after every surgery she had in the past, completely stopped. She gets excited when she reports, “this is the longest I’ve gone without a blockage in 14 years, so I think its working.”
Dr. Sperling says the hope is that the Liposorber treatment will slow the development of cholesterol plaques which have been clogging Peggy’s arteries, causing all the problems. “We might be able to shrink the plaque, although we can’t make it all go away.