UNM Thoracic and Vascular surgeons recently became the first in the state to offer a life saving, newly FDA approved surgical technique for patients with thoracic aortic aneurysms.  The new, minimally invasive technique cuts hospital stays from 7-10 days to 2-3 days while making it possible to treat patients who are too ill to withstand traditional open chest surgery.

An aneurysm is a localized widening or enlargement of the aortic that may subsequently rupture causing life-threatening bleeding. When left untreated, thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAA) can rupture, causing death within minutes.

While traditional TAA surgery involves a large incision that runs laterally from the patient's breastbone to spine so that an artificial graft can be sewn in place, the new procedure only requires a small incision in the patient's thigh for threading the catheter.  Physicians guide the graft through the artery into the chest then place it at the precise location covering the aneurysm.

"This technology represents a safer alternative to open surgery," said Said Yassin, M.D., Associate Professor in the UNM Department of Surgery's Thoracic Surgery Division.  "Our patients are usually able to leave the hospital within a day of surgery instead of having to undergo the two week-stay that patients undergoing traditional open heart surgery and they are at significantly less risk for serious complications." 

            "It opens up treatment options to patients who couldn't otherwise undergo a thoracic aortic aneurysm repair," said Mark Langsfeld, Associate Professor and Division Chief for Vascular Surgery at UNM. 

The entire procedure usually takes about one hour, compared to four to six hours for the traditional open-heart aneurysm repair.  Most patients go home from the hospital in the next two to three days compared to a hospital stay of a week to 10 days. In clinical trials comparing the device to open surgical repair, patients experienced fewer complications, blood loss in surgery was cut by 80 percent and the mortality rate of the TAA graft was one-third that of surgery.

Thoracic aortic aneurysms are diagnosed in approximately 15,000 people annually. This life-threatening condition is generally believed to be significantly under-diagnosed because 3 out of 4 individuals with aneurysms are asymptomatic. Aneurysms are a result of a weakening of the thoracic aorta, the body's main circulatory vessel.

Regular screenings for people who are at risk of having a TAA are the key to identifying and treating the condition early. People with high blood pressure, diabetes, family history of TAA or who smoke may be at risk of having a TAA. UNM offers screenings and encourages those at risk to get checked regularly.

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Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322