Best Life: Treating chronic pulmonary embolism

Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 6:45 AM CDT
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CHICAGO, Ill. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening and affects around one in 1,000 people in the U.S. every year. In most cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots in the legs or arms that travel to the lungs. With timely treatment, most people can recover. But for some, those clots become chronic, and even the most physically fit people can fall victim.

Fifty-three years after his big win with the Celtics, No. 7, Em Bryant, has still got it!

He still proudly wears his 1969 championship ring. This 85-year-old works hard to stay fit on and off the court.

“I was used to being in the gym for a couple hours and then swimming a quarter mile and half a mile,” said Bryant.

But then, his pulmonologist, Michael Cuttica, MD at Northwestern Medicine, noticed that he had a series of clotting events or pulmonary embolism in the lung, and never fully recovered from it.

The fatigue Bryant felt was a clear sign that his clots did not go away with blood thinners.

“When I met them, they got to the point where he couldn’t even go for walks with his wife,” said Cuttica.

When clots don’t go away, they can turn into scar tissue, or chronic clots in the walls of the pulmonary arteries, and this can lead to chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension or CTEPH.

Bryant underwent a pulmonary thromboendarterectomy surgery. Surgeons attached Bryant to a heart-lung bypass machine, cooling his body to 64 degrees Fahrenheit to protect his organs.

Surgeons then turned off the heart-lung machine, stopping circulation for up to 20 minutes. They opened the arteries and remove the clots. After a week in the hospital, Bryant was back home, and a few months later, he was back in the gym.

“I’ve since learned how to pace myself, now,” said Bryant.

“I look forward to the day where I get to go and shoot some hoops with him,” said Cuttica.

For patients who are not well enough or strong enough for the ten-hour PTE surgery, doctors can also try medications, or use a minimally invasive balloon catheter to try and push the clots out of the way. If not treated, the clots can become life-threatening.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.

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