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Cholesterol machine pulls out LDL

Cholesterol machine pulls out LDL

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Every two weeks, Kay Dillie is drained of all her blood, one pint at a time.

She gets it back, of course, but with less cholesterol.

During a recent appointment at Regional Medical Center, Dillie reclined in a chair as tubing pulled her blood from her arm into a machine called the Liposorber. The machine, new to the center, removed her blood, strained out the bad cholesterol known as LDL and returned the blood to her body. 

Near the bottom of the Liposorber, the liquid LDL from Dillie’s blood began to pool in a bag. When first removed, it looks like melted butter, but will turn to a Silly Putty consistency if exposed to the air.

Dillie, 44, wrinkled her nose at the fluid. “Isn’t it gross?” she said.

Dillie, who lives in Gillette, Wyo., was the first person to be treated with the new Liposorber in Rapid City. The device is used to lower LDL cholesterol levels in people with extreme levels.

Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood. It has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as “bad” cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as “good” cholesterol. These two types of lipids make up part of the total cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association.

When there’s too much LDL in the blood, it builds up in the inner walls of the arteries and forms plaque. To avoid that, people should strive for a low number. The lower the number, the lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. The LDL is a better gauge of risk of heart attack and stroke than the total blood cholesterol, according to the AHA. Optimal LDL levels are 100 milligrams per deciliter.

Dillie had her first heart attack at age 35. After her attack, she learned her LDL cholesterol level was more than 400.

Doctors performed six bypasses on her heart. Then last year, after eight years of cholesterol-lowering medication, she had another heart attack.

Most Liposorber patients have tried diet, exercise and medication to no avail. Often, there’s a genetic component to their cholesterol levels, said Dillie’s physician, Dr. Thomas Repas.

Repas said Dillie’s liver does not have the receptors that would generally rid the body of built-up cholesterol.

Patients with such an abnormality face an early death from heart disease unless they can have the cholesterol removed. More people have the genetic disorder than previously thought, Repas said.

Dillie comes from a long line of people who have died early from heart-related diseases. Only after her own diagnosis did Dillie realize that they, too, probably had sky-high cholesterol levels.

“It’s not that rare actually,” Repas said. “One in 500 people have it. For a lot of people, the drugs won’t work. You cannot diet enough to lower your cholesterol if you have this.”

After Dillie’s first three- to four-hour Liposorber treatment in early March, her cholesterol levels dropped from 355 to 104. And she felt healthier.

“I feel better when I’m done,” she said. “The next day, I’m bouncing off the walls. I didn’t really know how much it did hurt until it was gone.” 

Before the Liposorber, which has been on the market since 1986, doctors had little they could do for patients such as Dillie. Now, there are options. And it’s an option that excites Repas.

“It’s really awesome. It really is,” he said.

Over time, the cholesterol-removing process will even begin to remove hardened plaque in the arteries. The treatment also will keep the levels lower between treatments.

“There are still a lot of people who don’t even know it’s an option,” Repas said.

Dillie hopes her story might change that.

“It lessens your worry about whether you’re going to be alive tomorrow,” she said. 

Contact Lynn Taylor Rick at 394-8414 or lynn.taylorrick@rapidcityjournal.com.

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