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PHILADELPHIA - Vickey Soennichsen's heart disease had filled her arteries with plaque, narrowing them to the point that while trying to catch a train, she almost collapsed.

"I'm going up the stairs and I'm pulling myself up the stairs, trying to get up to the top," said Soennichsen, 59. "I thought, I am just gonna die."

Thick plaque buildup constricting her arteries was the culprit.

"When you see areas of a vessel that look like bites have been taken out, that represents atherosclerosis," said Dr. Sarang Mangalmurti, an interventional cardiologist at Lankenau Heart Institute, Main Line Health.

Doctors trying to put in a balloon or stent face blockage from calcium that has hardened, so for years, they drilled the vessel until they discovered shockwave therapy for coronary artery disease, or CAD.

"Instead of drilling out the vessel, we can use a very special balloon that emits ultrasonic waves to crack or fracture all that calcium," Mangalmurti said.

The shockwaves are generated from emitters along the context of the angioballoon and connect to a generator.

"That emitter is sparked and that spark creates a shockwave pulse and that pulse is transmitted from the emitter out into the vessel wall," Mangalmurti said.

Soennichsen's recovery was a welcome relief.

"They told me to take a week, and I felt great the next day. To know that somebody is watching over you and saying you're going to live, it gives you the confidence to go out and wanna do more," Soennichsen said.

CAD therapy will continue trials with 400 patients at 50 hospitals and follow patients for several years. Clinicians will study this until July 2022.