BAY CITY, MI - An Iosco County man recently felt truly under the weather. At first, Greg Adamiak thought he had pneumonia but something just wasn’t quite right. Something sinister was lurking in his lungs and making it hard for him to breathe.

“I got short of breath one day and I would drink some water and it would go away,” Adamiak said. “And I was like hmm, well, I couldn’t figure out what the heck it was.”

Adamiak said the real trouble happened when he went to bed one night. He woke up to go the bathroom and that’s when the trouble really started. He could not breathe.

His daughter took him to the St. Joseph Emergency Room in Tawas where the staff ran some tests, discovering that he did not have pneumonia at all. That difficulty breathing was caused by blood clots, or a pulmonary embolism, that had made it to his lungs.

Adamiak was then immediately transferred to McLaren Bay Region. After a bumpy ride down U.S. 23 to Bay City in the back of an ambulance, Adamiak met Dr. Nicolas Mouawad, the hospital’s chief vascular/endovascular surgeon, and his team.

It was under the care of Dr. Mouawad that he received a novel procedure that has grown in popularity around the country to treat blood clots called a “pulmonary percutaneous thrombectomy.”

In a nutshell, this procedure involves the insertion of a catheter into the veins to break up and pull out the clots.

With the reassurance of Mouawad, Adamiak underwent the procedure at McLaren despite a little hesitancy.

Like night and day, Adamiak was instantly feeling better and back up on his feet after a brief recovery period.

“I woke up after surgery like nothing ever happened,” he said, “It was unbelievable where you go from just not being able to breathe and then waking up and going, wow.”

Changing times

When Mouawad was training in his field, he said that there really was no treatment for pulmonary embolism other than prescribing blood thinners. That has since changed thanks to some aggressive medical developments, he said.

The percutaneous thrombectomy is one of those new developments, something that Mouawad has embraced in his practice.

“It’s an IV you place in the groin, just like they draw blood from your arm for a blood draw, you put an IV in the groin,” he said. “And through that, we advance a device through the body to the heart and to the lungs, at which point it basically sucks out or removes as much of the clot as possible.”

This type of lifesaving procedure is opening the door for rapid and successful treatment of certain patients. Patients feel immediately better when the procedure is finished, just like Adamiak experienced.

“Right then and there you can tell if the patient’s doing better, and there are changes in their blood pressure, changes in the heart rate, changes in what we call their vital signs,” said Mouawad. “You can see that essentially immediately.”

Mouawad cautioned that the procedure is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The procedure is used for patients that fit a specific set of criteria. Most clots don’t require the procedure, Mouawad said, but those that do are normally causing excessive strain on the heart.

While not everyone in the medical profession is on board with it quite yet, Mouawad embraced this new technology. He emphasized that it is FDA-approved and that it is not an experimental technology.

“For those of us who do it, we believe strongly because we see, we see the results, we see this on the patients that we take care of,” he said.

“I did a critical assessment of the devices,” he added. “I wanted to make sure that they were more effective and, more important than them being effective, I wanted to make sure that they were safe. Because the last thing we want to do is more procedures, that’s not the goal here. The goal is to be able to show an outcome and show a beneficial outcome to the patient.”

Mouawad and his team at McLaren Bay Region perform on average about one of these procedures a week, he said. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mouawad and others saw a surge in these procedures.

“It got in favor a lot more during COVID because COVID in of itself causes blood clots,” he said. “So we saw a dramatic increase in blood clots both in the legs and in the lungs during COVID.”

McLaren Bay Region has a 24/7 team that is trained and available to deal with pulmonary embolisms and these kinds of procedures.

“For us, we’re really able to take care of our community,” Mouawad said. “These are things that are pretty complex and we do them successfully locally and that was not the case previously, so I think being able to offer these live-saving treatments is great.”

Pulmonary embolism awareness

Pulmonary embolisms can be fatal. According to information provided by Mouawad, pulmonary embolisms are the third leading cause of cardiovascular death in the U.S. after heart attacks and stroke, resulting in over 100,000 deaths annually.

Common symptoms are chest pain, shortness of breath, cough or a blood cough, irregular heartbeat, and lightheadedness, said Mouawad.

The risk of clots increases for those who are not active. He said that he has seen it in people that are on long-haul car rides or travel where they have not been able to stretch.

“If you’re not active, that can cause swelling in your legs and ultimately cause you to have shortness of breath and chest pain,” he said.

As someone who went through it, Adamiak gave the following advice to someone who is feeling off like he was.

“When you can feel yourself not being able to catch your breath, for God’s sake, go to the emergency room,” he said. “That’s a sign right there.”

Click here to learn more about pulmonary embolisms.

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