Medicine: Blowup in the Arteries

Tiny balloon unclogs heart blood vessels

Stricken with the suffocating, spasmodic chest pains of severe angina, Robert, a 47-year-old chauffeur, recently entered Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital. Tests showed that his left main coronary artery was clogged with cholesterol-laden plaque. That made him a likely candidate for a coronary bypass, an operation in which segments of leg vein are sewn onto the arteries to shunt blood around blocked areas. But with Robert's approval, Lenox Hill doctors decided to forgo surgery and try a new and highly experimental alternative: a procedure with the tongue-twisting name of "percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty."

After Robert had been mildly...

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