The “inferior vena cava” filter (IVC filter) was never meant to be anything other than a temporary measure. It was designed to prevent blood clots from reaching the heart or lungs after a patient has undergone joint surgery, causing an embolism. It is recommended that the device be removed within six to twelve weeks, once the danger of an embolism has passed.

The problem is that, contrary to manufacturer claims, the device is extremely difficult to remove, because it has a tendency to come loose and migrate, or break into pieces, sending tiny metal shards throughout the blood system. Some patients have lived with an IVC filter inside them for years, where it becomes a ticking time bomb.

According to a report published in JAMA Surgery, only about 8% of all IVC filters are removed within four years. John Boehmer of Quebec is one of the lucky ones.

Boehmer was given an IVC filter following joint replacement surgery because his doctor feared he could have an embolism – and he wasn’t a good candidate for anti-coagulant medication. Once he was out of danger, the plan was to remove the IVC filter from his body. However, when an attempt to remove it was made eight months after the original surgery, doctors found that the filter had come loose. One of the small legs of the device had broken through a vein and had come close to puncturing his pancreas. Because of other serious health issues, Boehmer’s doctors determined that removing it was a greater danger than leaving it where it was.

Last summer, the Canadian health care authority, Health Canada, issued a warning that IVC filters remaining in a patient’s body longer than four weeks could cause serious injuries. In August, a month after the warning was issued, Boehmer was interviewed by Canada’s national television network. As a result of that interview, Boehmer received a phone call from a doctor in Ottawa – who is also one of the very few surgeons with the skills required to remove an IVC filter.

Dr. Adnan Hadziomerovic is an interventional radiologist at the Ottawa Hospital. He just happened to be watching CTV News the day the interview with Boehmer was broadcast. He has also successfully removed IVC filters from approximately 200 patients. However, Boehmer’s case was especially complex. After Dr. Hadziomerovic warned Boehmer that his would be a high-risk surgery, the latter decided it would be better to take the risk than continue to live with the uncertainty of having the device in his body.

The surgery involved inserting catheters into Boehmer’s arteries, going through the jugular vein in his neck and up through the groin. At the end was a small lasso what was used to grab onto the bent leg of the IVC filter and slowly withdraw it from the patient’s body.

In a later television interview, Boehmer said, “I feel very much relieved to see it in glass bottle and not in me.”

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.