Trellis device offers safer and more effective treatment for blood clots

Rose Kirby, 22, was vacuuming out her car when she felt a strange discomfort in her arm. Within an hour it turned into “a pink balloon,” she said. She passed it off as a bug bite or some sort of allergic reaction, but her parents were skeptical. “I was really lucky that my parents made me go to the doctor that day,” she said.

What doctors discovered on Rose’s arm was a 10-inch blood clot that stretched from the base of her upper arm to her chest. They say it was caused by Rose’s birth control pills. Large clots like Rose’s that form in the veins of the arms or legs are often caused by a condition known as deep vein thrombosis. If left untreated, the clots could break off and travel to the lungs, which can be fatal.

The standard treatment for blood clots is drugs known as blood thinners. However, there is no guarantee the clot will go away and there is always a risk of internal bleeding. In search of a more effective treatment, Portola Valley physician Dr. Thomas Fogarty invented the Trellis Peripheral Infusion System, designed to remove large clots in veins using balloons and blood thinners that are injected into the clot area.

Fogarty’s Trellis device was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2005, and has since been used on patients at more than 600 hospitals nationwide. The process involves navigating a catheter through the vein and into the clot and then inflating a balloon on either side of the clot. Trapped between the balloons, the blood clot is then injected with a clot-dissolving drug. The clot usually breaks up within an hour and patients are usually able to go home within a day with little more than a centimeter-sized scar.

Rose turned out to be an ideal candidate for the procedure, and she said she is pleased the process went so smoothly. “My Trellis scar is one dot,” she said.