Dr. Norman Ramirez (in white coat) and Dr. Jaime Villarreal (to immediate left) with Rio Grande Regional Hospital surgical and cath lab colleagues and leadership

New minimally invasive procedure prevents stroke

Rio Grande Regional Hospital conducted its first TransCarotid Artery Revascularization (TCAR) procedure to treat carotid artery disease and prevent future strokes.

Carotid artery disease is a form of atherosclerosis, or a buildup of plaque, in the two main arteries in the neck that supply oxygen-rich blood to the brain. If left untreated, carotid artery disease can often lead to stroke and is estimated to be the source of stroke in up to a third of cases, with 427,000 new diagnoses of the disease made every year in the U.S. alone.

Every year, 15 million people worldwide suffer a stroke, also known as a brain attack. Nearly six million die and another five million are left permanently disabled. Carotid artery disease is the cause of stroke in up to a third of cases, and Rio Grande Regional Hospital is now using an innovative, less-invasive procedure called TCAR to help treat the disease. The clinically proven procedure lowers patients' risk for stroke with faster recovery, less pain and smaller scars.

“Congratulations to Drs. Jaime Villarreal and Norman Ramirez, and our dedicated surgery and cath lab teams, for their unwavering commitment to providing our community with cutting-edge, high-quality care,” said Laura Disque, chief executive officer at Rio Grande Regional Hospital. “We are delighted that our adoption of minimally invasive techniques, resulting in smaller incisions, enables our patients to swiftly return to their lives and loved ones.”

Before TCAR, the main treatment option for severe carotid artery disease was an open surgical procedure called carotid endarterectomy (CEA). CEA removes plaque from inside the carotid artery to restore normal blood flow to the brain, but the large incision leaves a visible scar the length of the neck. It carries risks of surgical complications, including bleeding, infection, heart attack and cranial nerve injuries that can cause issues with swallowing, speaking and sensation in the face.

The TCAR procedure is performed in less than half the time of CEA and offers several advantages:

  • Better outcomes – TCAR results in a low peri-procedural stroke rate in high surgical risk patients. TCAR's stroke rate is the lowest reported to date for any prospective, multi-center trial of carotid stenting.
  • Less invasive – The TCAR approach has very low cranial nerve injury and myocardial infarction rates due to a minimal incision near the clavicle and the transcarotid approach.
  • Patient-friendly – Local anesthesia is favored, and hospital stays are typically overnight for observation. TCAR patients recover quickly and almost always go home the next day to return to full and productive lives with less pain and smaller scars.

People diagnosed with carotid artery disease are encouraged to consult with their cardiologist to see if the TCAR procedure is right for them. For physician referral, visit Rio Grande Regional Hospital.