Patient calls non-traditional heart treatment ‘a good kind of pain’

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- Cardiac patient Mike Thompson calls counterpulsation the best thing he's ever done. He says EECP treatments are "a good kind of pain."

Thompson suffered his first heart attack 15 years ago and another one a year later. He has been through medications, surgery and stents. "My right coronary artery is basically my nemesis, it kept clogging up they’d stent it again, clog up stent clog up stent," said Thompson.

Then, he was introduced to EECP: "Within the first week, 90 percent of my chest pain was gone."

Picture this: you're lying on a bed, and both of your legs are surrounded in what looks and feels like a giant blood pressure cuff, only these cuffs are much stronger and run the length of each leg.

The treatment squeezes the legs when the heart is at rest, improving blood flow back to the heart, said Dr. Thomas Boyden, medical director for preventive cardiology at Spectrum Health.

As each cuff pulsates, it inflates and deflates in sync with patient's cardiac cycles. The heart squeezes and relaxes, and the counterpulsation squeezes back.

Dr. Boyden says counterpulsation isn't for everyone, but for some it's working wonders.

"We’ve had 20 patients come through here in the past year," Boyden said. "Eighteen out of 20 reported they were chest pain free, or there was such a significant reduction in chest pain, they’re able to do more activities."

Counterpulsation mimics the effect of exercise, developing new blood vessels and new blood flow to the heart.

"I’m very thankful to be alive," said Thompson. "I have too much more to do on earth."

People who can get their chest pain under control in more traditional ways -- stents, medications or bypass surgery -- might avoid counterpulsation. This treatment requires a lot of time and commitment from the patient. The treatment lasts one hour a day, five days a week for seven weeks.

The treatment is available at Spectrum Health's Bradford location, 2902 Bradford Street NE, Grand Rapids.

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