Killer Clots: Vacuum Them Up!

Killer Clots: Vacuum Them Up!

See how doctors removed a two-foot long blood clot inside the body.
About one in 500 Americans suffers from deep vein thrombosis, a condition where blood clots form in the veins of the leg. Nearly 100,000 die each year when a clot breaks away and travels to the lungs or heart. Now, there’s a new way to vacuum up these dangerous clots.

For years, Todd Dunlap was an avid skier, hiker, and volleyball player.

“I’ve always been an athlete,” Todd Dunlap told Ivanhoe.

However, Todd had to give up his active lifestyle when doctors found a massive, two-foot long blood clot growing in his body.

“The blood clot went from below my groin to the top of my heart,” Todd said.

If a piece broke loose, it could travel to Todd’s lungs and kill him instantly.

The standard fix was major surgery where doctors open the chest, stop the heart, and remove the clot.

Instead, UCLA Interventional Radiologist John Moriarty offered Todd a new procedure called AngioVac.

“What it is, is a fancy vacuum cleaner,” John Moriarty, MD, Assistant Professor, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told Ivanhoe.

Doctors placed a tube down Todd’s neck artery and plugged one end to his heart. Another tube was placed into his groin and attached to a machine.

The device sucked out the clot; then, restored clean blood. Todd hopes to get back to his favorite activities soon, but his most important goal involves a 10-month-old little boy.

“The skiing and volleyball is great, but playing with your grandson is right on top,” Todd said.

The AngioVac device could be used on other types of clots in different areas of the body.

Just like any procedure, there are risks – which include bleeding, blood vessel damage, and the chance that a clot could break off and travel to the lungs.

BACKGROUND: Heart attacks and stroke are the number one fear of patients who have a history of blood clots. They can cause serious health problems and may interfere with daily functions. Before blood clots are formed, the clot goes through stages to build the blockage. A blood clot may also be viewed as a positive reaction when injury occurs, but if one develops in the brain or lungs then medical attention is needed immediately. (Source: and 
CAUSES: Blood clots are formed all of the time due to the amount of cuts or injuries a person has. Once the cut has healed and the bleeding has subsided, the clot usually goes away. If the blood platelets continue to build, then it can form an unnecessary clot in the veins or arteries. Diseases, conditions, medicines, and genetic mutations can also cause blood clots to form. (Source:
SYMPTOMS: Symptoms of having a blood clot depend on where the clot is located. Shortness of breath, chest pain, and discomfort in the upper body are symptoms of having a heart attack or pulmonary embolism. A person may have a blood clot in the veins of the leg if the leg swells, is painful, or if it is red. Symptoms of blood clots in the brain include dizziness, paralysis, headaches, and speech changes. (Source:
NEW TECHNOLOGY: A new technology is being used to suck out the blood clots in veins and arteries. The AngioVac is a vacuum-like machine that removes blockages in the veins during bypass procedures. Procedures can take up to 6 hours but will filter the veins and deliver fresh blood once the clot is removed. The AngioVac procedure is favored over traditional bypass procedures because it is less invasive.  (Source:
John Moriarty, MD
Assistant Professor
Interventional Radiology
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
(310) 825-0958

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