Abdominal aortic aneurysms usually have no symptoms, making them difficult to detect.
In fact- doctors say a majority of aneurysms that haven't burst are found incidentally- during an ultrasound or CAT scan when doctors are looking for some other health problem.
In Healthwatch Chelly Boutott tells us how the team at Aurora BayCare Medical center was able to save one man's life using a new- to our area- procedure.
It's called fenestrated endovascular aortic repair surgery.
Aurora BayCare Medical Center is the first hospital to perform FEVAR in Northeastern Wisconsin- and Al Schenk was the first patient.
Al Schenk feels lucky to be alive, "It didn't break open so I'm fortunate."
Last July, severe back pain sent al to the doctor, "This was like a pain that would stop me in my track," explained Al Schenk, Shawano.
What the doctor found on the x-ray was something unexpected. And he immediately called Aurora BayCare Medical Center, "They looked at it and they told me to get my butt down here as quick as a could," said Al.
Al was sent to vascular surgeon Dr. Gregory Thom who did a CAT scan, "the aneurysm was quite large over 6 cm in diameter, and extended all the way up to his kidney arteries," explained Gregory Thom, vascular surgeon, Aurora BayCare Medical Center.
It was an abdominal aortic aneurysm, "It's an area where the wall of the artery is weakened and it has caused the artery to enlarge," said Dr. Thom.
And bulge out. If it's not fixed, "As aneurysms grow the walls become weaker and at a certain point which is unpredictable it will rupture," and Dr. Thom says Al's risk of rupture was high, "Unfortunately, most of the time when people have a ruptured aneurysm they die."
Al's aneurysm couldn't be fixed with a standard stent graft, "There wasn't enough room to contain a good seal below the kidney arteries," explained Dr. Thom.
So Al had two choices- he could have an open aneurysm repair using a graft which required an incision from chest to abdomen. "That surgery requires a week in the hospital at least and several more months of recovery," said Dr. Thom.
Al chose fenestrated endovascular aortic repair surgery or FEVAR, "so we actually used a custom made graft that allows us to extend the seal of the aneurysm to above the kidney arteries," said Dr. Thom.
The FEVAR is minimally invasive. Dr. Tom makes two small incisions and advances the wires through the artery to the aneurysm,"The stents are deployed inside the arteries and then we use a balloon to stretch them to seal up against the artery wall so blood no longer flows around the stent into the aneurysm sac," explained Dr. Thom.
Taking pressure off the aneurysm- FEVAR has many advantages over open surgery, "Al didn't require any incisions on his abdomen just a small puncture at the top of each leg and he went home the next day," said Dr. Thom.
Al was impressed "Piece of cake, there was no pain."
"In this case it was a blessing because it was what led us to discover the aneurysm," said Dr. Thom.
Al's back pain was unrelated to his aneurysm, "In this case it was a blessing because it was what led us to discover the aneurysm," said Dr. Thom.
"I think it was somebody upstairs kicking me," said Al.
Al says the real kicker is-- his back pain went away and the doctors never found out what it was.
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