Sucking bad cholesterol out of the blood

Sucking bad cholesterol out of the blood. For some, it’s a last resort. But it’s a life saver doctors want patients to take to heart.

It looks like dialysis – a process patients undergo when their kidneys can no longer cleanse the blood of toxins. But this machine is ridding the body of another harmful substance.

Dr. Binh An Phan, Cardiologist & Lipidologist, Loyola University Medical Center: “We take a patient’s blood and we remove the bad cholesterol from their blood, and then return that blood to the patient’s body.”

Called LDL apheresis, the process starts with a needle stick – then another to establish a line in and a line out. Once the machine kicks on …

Dr. Binh An Phan: “That machine has a tube with a membrane in it, and the blood flows through that membrane. The membrane traps cholesterol particles and takes those particles out of the blood, and the blood without the particles is returned to the patient. This procedure is not for the average person with high cholesterol. This is for the patient that has an inherited genetic abnormality in cholesterol production. They’ve tried everything else and it’s failed.”

Fran Tobias, LDL apheresis patient: “It’s cumbersome and maddening and aggravates the heck out of me, but I know if I don’t do it, it’s just a matter of time.”

For Fran Tobias, time is a luxury, especially considering her family history.

Fran Tobias: “My father passed away when I was a baby from a massive heart attack.”

Her two brothers suffered the same fate – both died at young ages. Then, at the age of 37, Fran had her first heart attack.

Fran Tobias: “I’ve had a number of angioplasties, eight stents, quintuple bypass.”

Cholesterol is destroying her heart. She changed her diet and exercised. But her numbers didn’t budge.

Fran Tobias: “It’s maddening. When you work that hard and see no result, you just throw your hands up in the air.”

Even powerful medications can’t mount a strong enough defense.

Dr. Binh An Phan: “For these patients, a powerful statin can only lower bad cholesterol by 10 or 15 percent, which for most patients is not enough.”

That’s when apheresis can help. Doctors see an 80% reduction in bad cholesterol levels. Fran’s total dropped from 357 to 125. Her LDL from 260 to 51. But it’s not a constant. Fran has to have apheresis every two weeks — a two to four hour process each session.

Dr. Binh An Phan: “We consider it to be a life-saving procedure.”

Loyola University Medical Center has been offering LDL apheresis for about 10 years, but doctors there want to spread the word about the treatment. If you’d like to learn more, go to For more information log on to loyolahealth.org

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