Thomas McCabe, 53, of Woodbury Heights, NJ, loves his job working as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. He takes pride in knowing that he’s the one responsible in making sure all the mail is getting delivered directly to the people in his community each and every afternoon.

So when he began experiencing severe chest pains in December 2010, and was told he needed a cardiac catheterization procedure, he was worried he’d be out of work for a couple of weeks. With a failing economy and the risk of losing his job — that wasn’t a chance he was going to take.

“From what I was told about the recovery period for a traditional cardiac catheterization, I thought I was going to be out of work for at least a couple of weeks,” said McCabe. “My job is pretty demanding, so missing even a few days of work would probably affect me in some way.”

Mr. McCabe was referred to Elias A. Iliadis, MD, Medical Director, Non-invasive Vascular Laboratory and Clinical Cardiologist at Cooper University Hospital, after a failed attempt at another hospital to perform a standard femoral artery access through the groin. Dr. Iliadis suggested a more minimally invasive approach that would shorten the length of recovery time.

Radial artery access, a relatively new and innovative procedure in the U.S., uses arteries in the wrist instead of the leg for inserting the catheter into the heart. This cardiac catheterization technique can provide a less stressful option for patients needing the procedure because there is little to no discomfort after the surgery and patients can go back to their normal activity almost immediately.

“There is a lower risk of bleeding with radial artery access, as only a small bandage at the wrist is required post-procedure, and patients can move about immediately after the catheterization, with no required bed rest,” said Dr. Iliadis. “Many patients actually return to driving and work the following day.”

In standard cardiac catheterization procedures through the femoral artery, patients must lie flat during the catheterization through the artery in their groin. After the procedure, patients must remain horizontal and immobile for several hours, and may experience some pain and bruising at the puncture site for several days.

“I wish I had known about this new technique before attempting to have the procedure through my thigh,” continued McCabe. “With the radial artery access I had absolutely no pain or discomfort and I was back on my feet within an hour.”

Although access from the radial artery is increasing in popularity, skill and experience of the physician is essential. Nationwide, less than 5 percent of cardiac catheterizations are performed with a wrist access. At Cooper, however, the rate is nearly three times the national average.

“I believe we have a higher rate of radial access procedures because of the depth of expertise and experience of our Cooper cardiologists,” Dr. Iliadis said. “Our main priority is the comfort and care of our patients, and with this technique we can provide those benefits.”

McCabe had his procedure through the wrist on a Wednesday and was back to work within a week.