By Wally Kennedy

Globe Staff Writer

A 49-year-old Newton County man became the first patient in the area to receive a new drug-coated stent that will prevent the re-clogging of coronary arteries, and was doing well Wednesday at Freeman Hospital West in Joplin.

He received two of the revolutionary stents. Three other patients each received one of the stents Wednesday.

The stent, which received approval from the Food and Drug Administration on April 24, could cut by almost 60 percent the chance of a heart attack or need for additional treatment compared with stents now in use, studies have suggested.

Kyle Robinson, a spokeswoman for Freeman Health System, said the Newton County man "was doing just fine after the surgery. He's sleeping now."

Representatives of the Freeman Heart Institute held a press conference Wednesday to announce that the institute had received 30 of the stents and that five of them had been put in four heart patients.

A spokesman for St. John's Regional Medical Center said it will receive between 42 and 46 stents on May 27. The hospitals did not receive the stents at the same time because they deal with different vendors.

Because the demand for them is so great, only limited quantities of the stents are available to heart centers across the country. Another reason for their limited availability is the price - each stent costs about $3,000. Half of the cost is paid by Medicare for covered patients. The cost of the new stent is three times the cost of a regular stent.

Dr. John Cox, a cardiologist with Freeman, said: "We are entering a new era in the treatment of heart disease. It thrills us to be able to offer this advanced therapy to our patients and be one of the first hospitals in the country to use the drug-coated stent.

"Though current supplies of this stent are limited, we plan to provide this technology to selected angioplasty candidates. These patients will be those with the highest probability of re-blocking."

Approximately 800,000 Americans each year undergo angioplasties to clear arteries. About 16 to 20 percent of them develop scar tissue on the stents used the procedure. The scar tissue, if not controlled, can re-block the vessel. Because of that, thousands of heart patients return for repeat angioplasties and bypass surgeries.

The new stent is coated with sirolimus, an immunosuppressant. The drug is slowly released into the walls of the vessel, where it helps prevent the forming of scar tissue.

"This is a revolutionary product," said Dennis Farrell, director of cardiovascular services at St. John's. "The percentage of heart patients who will need repeat angioplasties will go way down."

Farrell said the stent was put through extensive clinical trials in Europe before receiving FDA approval. He said it is likely that the technology will be in used applications beyond the intended heart-patient pool.

During an angioplasty, cardiologists are able to push blockages aside by threading a balloon inside a clogged artery. A stent - which has been compared to metal scaffolding - is inserted to help ensure that the artery does not become clogged again.

Cox said the stents will be used only with certain types of heart patients.

"With 80 percent of the patients, the angioplasty heals as a nice, smooth scar. It's a permanent fix of that segment," he said. "But in 16 to 20 percent of those patients, a scar develops within one to six months that is just as bad as the blockage that was moved away.

"This drug-coated stent will inhibit scar formation, and that will reduce the number of repeat surgeries. This is a major step forward and shows that we are staying at the forefront of technology."

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