Trivia Tuesday: What then-experimental medical device saved Mother Teresa in 1991.

Amanda Pedersen

March 12, 2024

3 Min Read
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, IndiaImage credit: Tim Graham / Contributor / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Imagine developing an experimental medical device, and then, early in the clinical trial phase, you learn your device has been implanted in a living saint.

“I definitely panicked,” Julio Palmaz, MD, says in a 2002 tribute video produced by the International Society of Endovascular Specialists, as he recalls the moment he learned that his experimental coronary stent had been implanted in Mother Teresa. “The stent was still in trials, and I could see a headline saying, ‘Palmaz Stent Kills a Saint’.”

In last week’s Trivia Tuesday article, we explored the surprising history behind the development of the coronary stent. This week, we’re taking a closer look at how Mother Teresa came to be enrolled in the coronary clinical trial of the Palmaz-Schatz balloon-expandable stent in 1991, about six years before her death.

Mother Teresa had been in Northern Mexico doing missionary work when she had to be rushed to the Scripps Clinic in San Diego, CA for emergency angioplasty. She was enrolled in the coronary stent study and received one of the experimental devices.

“History has proven that Julio’s concerns were all for not. Mother Teresa, like countless other patients worldwide, had her health restored all due to an idea that has given birth to a revolutionary field now called endovascular intervention,” the tribute video notes.

2002 tribute film on Julio Palmaz, MD. Producer: International Society of Endovascular Specialists, Director/Writer: Chris Wooley, Director of Photography: Wayne Dickmann.


Voice over: With strong backing by J&J, the stent took off. FDA trials – first in the iliac arteries, followed by other vascular anatomy – proved successful worldwide. Soon after, a study in the jewel of all arteries, the coronaries, set forth. But early in this study, Julio awoke one day in San Antonio to alarming news.

Palmaz: It was at the very beginning of the coronary trial when I heard that Mother Teresa, who I knew very well, got a stent. And the story goes that Mother Teresa was in Northern Mexico doing missionary work and all of a sudden developed heart failure, was brought to San Diego Scripps Clinic in an emergency basis and it got an angioplasty with a stent that night of admission. And the stent was still an experimental device and for her to receive one had to be incorporated as an experimental subject, which Mother Teresa obviously I acknowledged and accepted. So, the following morning when I learn of it, I definitely panicked for one thing because the stent was still in trials and I could see a headline saying, “Palmaz Stent Kills a Saint.”

Voice over: History has proven that Julio’s concerns were all for not. Mother Teresa, like countless other patients worldwide, had her health restored all due to an idea that has given birth to a revolutionary field now called endovascular intervention. And for the humble doctor Julio Palmaz, who still toils in his San Antonio research lab looking for an even better stent, his indelible mark on medicine will go down in history as one of the greatest of all time. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the International Society of Endovascular Specialists honoree for Excellence in Endovascular Innovation, Dr. Julio Palmaz.

About the Author(s)

Amanda Pedersen

Amanda Pedersen is a veteran journalist and award-winning columnist with a passion for helping medical device professionals connect the dots between the medtech news of the day and the bigger picture. She has been covering the medtech industry since 2006.

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