Medtronic?s Santa Rosa vascular business continues to defy the economic downturn, growing 20 percent over the past year, the company reported Tuesday.

Sales of stents and related products for treating artery disease rose to $395 million in the third quarter ending Jan. 23, up from $330 million a year ago.

?Medtronic continues to deliver growth in a challenging environment,? CEO Bill Hawkins told Wall Street analysts Tuesday.

Santa Rosa is headquarters for Medtronic?s vascular unit, which employs about 1,200 workers in Sonoma County. The unit develops stent systems that keep heart patients? blood flowing.

Stents are tiny mesh tubes that prop arteries open after they?re cleared of fatty plaque in a procedure called angioplasty. They are a key tool used by physicians to fight cardiovascular disease, the nation?s leading cause of death.

Medtronic?s stent sales were fueled last quarter by a court ruling that allowed it to use a stent delivery system popular with U.S. interventional cardiologists.

Over the past year, Medtronic has introduced several new vascular products. Its next-generation Endeavor drug-coated stent ? which releases medication to stop arteries from re-clogging ? hit the U.S. market a year ago.

Endeavor posted $50 million in U.S. sales in the third quarter, Hawkins said, and generated about $130 million in sales worldwide during the same period.

Medtronic?s endovascular products ? tubes that reinforce weak spot in arteries called aneurysms ? saw even stronger sales growth.

The endovascular systems, called stent grafts, also are developed in Santa Rosa.

Endovascular revenue soared 49 percent as the company launched its Talent abdominal and thoracic stent grafts in the United States and Endurant abdominal stent grafts on the foreign market.

?The Talent stent grafts are performing very well in the U.S.,? said Joe McGrath, spokesman for Medtronic?s Santa Rosa unit.

Companywide, Medtronic had third-quarter revenue of $3.5 billion, up 3 percent from the same period a year ago.

Medtronic edged past Wall Street expectations, reporting profits of $723 million, or 65 cents per share. A year ago, it earned $77 million, or 7 cents per share, when lawsuit charges and acquisition costs weighed down results.

Weak sales of its largest business unit, heart-pacing devices, were offset by unexpectedly strong sales of spinal implants and tighter operating costs.

Medtronic shares rose $1.75, or 5.3 percent, to $34.56 on a day when most stocks fell sharply.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.