Andreas Gruentzig, MD

Balloons to Restore Blood Flow

Every year, more than 1 million Americans undergo angioplasty to unblock narrowed coronary arteries, restoring blood flow to the heart.

In the 1970s, a primitive form of angioplasty existed for arteries of the arms and legs. To make angioplasty work in coronary arteries, Andreas Gruentzig developed a catheter with a small inflatable balloon molded to its tip. The catheter is advanced through the arterial system and across the plaque that builds up to clog the coronary artery. Inflating the balloon compresses the plaque "like footprints in snow," as Gruentzig told patients.

In 1977, Gruentzig presented his first cases at the American Heart Association, to a standing ovation. In 1980, he joined Emory, continuing advances and teaching physicians worldwide.

He died in 1985, shortly before a large study found balloon angioplasty as effective as surgery in patients with multiple artery blockages. Gruentzig had begun a revolution in treating heart disease.