For years, Joseph Mashtaler spent all his spare time exploring the outdoors near his home in Ontario, Canada, until two years ago, when heart disease kept him virtually housebound.
"Even my children, which are grown, said, 'You were invincible. What happened?' That's what hit me. I just want to be normal. That's all," said Mashtaler.
The artery leading to his heart was totally blocked. Doctors tried a traditional approach to reopen the artery, but the plaque that had built up inside his arteries was too dense for angioplasty to work.
Dr. Bradley Strauss at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto pioneered a new treatment that would give patients with total blockage another option.
"I've been working on a type of 'chemical Drano' to soften the plaque, soften the collagen inside the plaque, so it's easier to cross with our conventional type of guide-wires and equipment," said Strauss.
Doctors inject the enzyme into the blockage. The drug softens the plaque overnight.
"We will bring the patient back the next day and we will just use a conventional approach to doing angioplasty," said Strauss.
Strauss says reopening the artery this way means some patients may not have to undergo bypass surgery at all.
For Marshtaler, that means a faster recovery -- reason enough to celebrate.
Strauss was able to successfully perform angioplasty on 12 of the first 15 patients who were injected with the enzyme. All of the patients in the trial had a previous failed attempt at unclogging an artery.
The researcher is about to begin a large clinical trial in Canada and the U.S.