35th Anniversary of Coronary Angioplasty

Angioplasty balloon being manufactured on the kitchen table in Gruentzig’s apartment

Today is the 35th anniversary of the first percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) which was performed in 1977 by Dr. Andreas R. Gruentzig in Zurich, Switzerland. This angioplasty procedure utilized an expandable balloon, fashioned on a kitchen table in Gruentzig’s apartment by Gruentzig’s assistant, Maria Schlumpf (note the bottle of wine…and yes, she used Krazy Glue).

The patient was Adolph Bachman, age 37 (the same age as Gruentzig), who was scheduled for bypass surgery. Gruentzig has been working on this idea for several years; it was an idea first germinated by a U.S. radiologist, Dr. Charles Dotter, in the early 60’s. Dotter in fact coined the term “angioplasty” to describe opening up a blocked artery not through open surgery, but by threading a catheter into the artery and opening it up from the inside out: less traumatic, quicker, and possibly (he thought) more durable.

Dotter’s idea was mocked as crazy (he became known as “Crazy Charlie”) by the surgical community of the day and it took years for Dotter’s concept to travel across the world to Europe, where Gruentzig learned about it. He added a balloon to the tip of the catheter and, after experimenting in the lab in Zurich, he teamed up with Dr. Richard K. Myler of San Francisco to try the idea intraoperatively in patients who were having open heart surgery.

When the concept had been proven in a few of these surgical cases, Gruentzig returned to Zurich to attempt doing an angioplasty in the cath lab without surgery: percutaneously — just through a needle stick, the same procedure as a diagnostic angiogram. Except with a balloon. That’s where our video below begins: the story of the first angioplasty.

(By the way, the clip below is excerpted from my feature-length award-winning documentary, “PTCA: A History,” which tells the whole tale of how this “crazy” idea turned into a major branch of modern medicine. The complete 72 minute DVD is available for sale on our web site — of course!)

(Updated) — By the way, although they are ID’d in the clip, the speakers are, as follows: Bernhard Meier, MD, FACC, Chair of the Swiss Cardiovascular Center, University Hospital in Bern, Switzerland; Maria Schlumpf, who was Andreas Gruentzig’s assistant in Zurich, until he moved to Emory University Hospital in 1980; Adolph Bachman, the first angioplasty patient, who still lives in Switzerland; John E. Abele, retired Founder Chairman of Boston Scientific who has been involved in many educational and organizational efforts regarding technology and its impact on our lives — our documentary from which this clip is excerpted was made possible by an educational grant from him.

The full-length documentary includes many others who were part of the story of angioplasty. My goal in making that video was to not have a “narrator”, and I don’t. The story is told entirely in the first person by the doctors and healthcare professionals who were there! Among them are: David Auth,  Joe Brown, Heliane Canepa, William Casarella MD, Andreas R. Gruentzig MD, Geoffrey O. Hartzler MD, J. Willis Hurst MD, Spencer B. King III MD, Martin B. Leon MD, Richard K. Myler MD, Richard Schatz MD,  Patrick W. Serruys MD, Paul Yock MD, Eberhard Zeitler MD and more….

Did I mention that you can purchase the full-length documentary here?


Filed under History, Innovators, Video

16 Responses to 35th Anniversary of Coronary Angioplasty


    and yet for MS angioplasty many are having to fly out of their countrys, Imagine if this was NOT allowed in own countrys and many had to fly abroard too . Its unethical NOT to help MS patients too with blocked veins or valves in their necks

    • Lynne — Since Andreas Gruentzig’s time, the use of angioplasty has spread well beyond the coronary arteries to use in the legs, the neck and carotid arteries, the brain, the kidneys, and so on. But the use of angioplasty for MS is controversial. In this case, angioplasty has been used specifically to treat chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) which has links to MS. The big question is whether treating CCSVI with angioplasty is safe and effective. While there is anecdotal evidence from some patients, there is also a lack of hard data from any type of randomized clinical trial. In May the FDA issued a warning on the potential dangers of this treatment. Most cardiologists agree that more data is needed. My guess is that if Dr. Gruentzig were alive, he also would be calling for more data to prove whether or not angioplasty can be a valid treatment for Multiple Sclerosis and, if so, in which patients.

      • Update for Lynne — The Vancouver Sun reports today that a $6 million randomized clinical trial testing this form of angioplasty for MS, called “liberation therapy”, is just starting in Canada.

        • GerryG

          Burt, these trials you mentioned coming up in Canada are a joke. The results will be compiled by neurologists who will pick and choose. The results will be from thier point of view ans ANY gain the patient has will be disregarded. This is an issue many of us have faced since treatment.
          Just as the first PTCA was met with resistance, so has and will the CCSVI treatment, this time for the love of money. You mention FDA warnings. The CCSVI treatment is much more effective and safer then the drugs they push on people who just want tier lives back. It’s time for science to get back to “science for the sake of science”.

  2. Shirley Renshaw

    yes there was an announcement regarding this study in Canada … BUT … This so-called study has been set to fail from the get go. Since when does a neurologist do a study on a Vascular issue? The government, the CIHR and the MS Society seem to know how veins work? I think not. They still have to find out what causes MS. Another waste of millions and time we do not have. This should be given to the Vascular community it is a vascular issue NOT a neurological one. Sure it helps relieve many MS symptoms but to not study this properly is absurd, cruel and inhumane.

    We have been battling with the government going on year four about having tests/trials/studies but all they have done is given lip service but never action. Now we have to deal with this idiocy. Just so wrong.

  3. D. Patel

    I personally thank to all those who sacrified their time and money in the discovery of angioplasty.

  4. Thomas Weathers

    I had open heart surgery three years ago with five bypasses of which two have colapsed Is there nothing that could be done for me. I stay very tierd all day long

  5. Thomas Weathers

    I see I am not alone. It makes me feel almost related to these people. If and when I find an answer I will be sure to share with everyone. I really don’t understand why angioplasty could not work after one [bypass graft] has collapsed. If I could only understand I think it would be much easier to deal with. My doctor does not talk a lot even after questions.

  6. Jane


    I’m working on a research paper on angioplasty and I noticed that you had a figure in here about more than 2 million angioplasties being performed globally every year. Is there somewhere I could get an exact figure?


    • As with so many “worldwide” statistics, many of these figures are best approximations. The NCDR in the U.S. keeps specific records, as does the AHA, but even then there are a percentage of cases that are not recorded. Multiply that times the many countries in which PCIs are performed and…well, you get the picture. The two million annual PCI figure is cited in a number of studies and journal articles. Here’s one: the 2-year Follow-up to the SPIRIT Trial, that was published in JACC.

  7. Angela


    I just want to know, when was the video made and who by?


  8. Bernie ridge

    I would love to know how angioplasty could help MS . and why more research has not being carried out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *