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Expert treatment of carotid artery helps patient reduce stroke risk

Kathleen Atlas chose surgery to significantly lower her risk of stroke, so that she can continue to play with grandchildren (from left) Nicholas, Jason and Matthew.

One of the strengths of primary care physicians (PCPs) at Loyola University Health System is how loosely they work with other specialists to care for patients. This collaborative approach may have prevented Kathleen Atlas, 61, from experiencing a potentially life-threatening stroke. 

“Kathleen’s care began with a thorough examination by her PCP, Dr. James Rupp,” said Michael Schneck, MD, a neurologists specializing in stroke care and medical director of the Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit at Loyola. When she described her symptoms – recent dizziness and a brief loss of vision decades ago, he took her complaints seriously. Dr. Rupp ordered diagnostic tests that revealed she might have a significant blockage in one of her two carotid arteries, the primary suppliers of blood to the brain. 

Dr. Rupp referred Kathleen to Dr. Schneck, who performed a complete neurological exam with a variety of imaging techniques. Dr. Schneck confirmed the significant narrowing of the carotid artery on the left side of her neck, although it was not directly related to her symptoms.

“Not everybody who has carotid artery disease needs a surgery, but all need medical attention,” Dr. Schneck said. “It’s important for the patient and family to meet with a neurologist and discuss the options that are best for the individual.”

The three most common treatment options for carotid artery disease are managing the condition with  medications, an operation known as carotid endarterectomy, or a minimally invasive angioplasty (widening of the artery) with a carotid stent (wire mesh to keep the artery open). Loyola’s team of physicians and surgeons are adept in all therapeutic approaches.

“My mother had multiple strokes and died at age 34, so I was very concerned,” Kathleen said. “I chose surgery. My surgeon, Dr. Loftus, was wonderful. I’m a nurse, so I know that not every surgeon is as personable as he is. He was really thorough and confident when he explained what he was going to do and made he me feel confident about my choice. The surgery was done the day before my 61st birthday. I was home two days later.”

To remove the plaque in Kathleen’s artery, Dr. Loftus made an incision in her neck over the blockage. He then closed the artery with fine permanent stitches and a material created specifically to patch the carotid. The skin incision was closed with dissolvable sutures and the surgical team used ultrasound imaging to confirm that the vessel was open and fully repaired.

“Clinical research demonstrates that endarterectomy is superior to stenting for patients who meet cer tain criteria,” said Christopher Loftus, MD, professor and chair, Neurological Surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “And carotid surgery is the most studied procedure out there.”

Dr. Loftus has written hundreds of research papers, books and articles, and has lectured on carotid artery disease at medical schools and conferences worldwide. Last fall the federation of medical societies that represents about 30,000 neurosurgeons worldwide elected Dr. Loftus as an officer of the organization. 

“My colleagues and I will see any carotid artery patient at any time for any reason,” Dr. Loftus said. “If your family doctor suggests keeping an eye on a possible issue, we will be happy to see you.”

Kathleen credits the entire Loyola team for helping her prevent a stroke, which could have had devastating consequences. “The surgery has made a big difference in my life. I feel that the time I now spend with my family and friends is so much more meaningful.”

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with a Loyola physician, call (888) LUHS-888 (888-584-7888).

Media Relations

Jim Ritter
Media Relations
(708) 216-2445
jritter@lumc.edu
Anne Dillon
Media Relations
(708) 216-8232
adillon@lumc.edu