Celebrating 35 Years of Balloon Angioplasty

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This year marks the 35th anniversary of the first coronary balloon angioplasty at VCU, conducted in July 1979 by Michael Cowley, M.D., and George Vetrovec, M.D.

Early in their careers at VCU, the two physicians traveled to Switzerland to study the technique with Andreas Gruentzig, M.D., who conducted the world’s first successful coronary balloon angioplasty in 1977. Cowley went to Zurich in December 1978, later returning with Vetrovec.

VCU was an early adopter of the procedure. According to Cowley, VCU was among the first 10 centers in the U.S. to perform it. When the pair went abroad to study with Gruentzig, the number of balloon angioplasties performed worldwide hadn’t yet reached 100. Today, VCU Pauley Heart Center physicians undertake the lifesaving procedure on about 1,000 patients each year.

“Both Dr. Cowley and Dr. Vetrovec have made very important contributions to interventional cardiology that have led to great advances in the field. Their work has benefited millions of patients all over the world,” said Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D., chair of Pauley’s Division of Cardiology.

The two physicians were recently recognized as Master Interventionalists by their peers at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI). Both former presidents of the SCAI, the two cardiologists received the award at the organization’s annual meeting in Las Vegas in July. They were among 18 physicians selected by their peers for the inaugural MSCAI class.

“We’re the only two from the same center,” said Cowley. “It’s a major honor.”

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