New Minimally Invasive Device Treating Aneurysms Gives Local Woman Another Shot at Life

May 12, 2008

Michele Hulan-Chung, 43, of Kalamazoo, has always considered herself a “product of modern medicine and miracles.” An overweight woman with two kidney transplants and on steroids since a teenager, Hulan-Chung experienced another result of modern medicine at Bronson after physicians discovered a potentially deadly aneurysm in her chest area.

Hulan-Chung suffered from a thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA), a bulging of part of the wall of the aorta, the body's largest artery. Most patients with this aneurysm have no symptoms until the aneurysm begins to leak or expand. TAA is a condition that, until recently, required open surgery to correct, a long hospital stay, and an extended recovery time.

That has changed now that surgeons at Bronson have a new way to repair these aneurysms through a new minimally invasive procedure – the thoracic aortic endograft (TAG) – by way of endovascular repair.

When detected in time, aneurysms treated by this procedure offer a safer alternative to open surgery. Many patients look forward to improved treatment outcomes and a shorter hospital stay.

“The TAG procedure has changed the face of endovascular surgery,” said Mark Rummel, M.D., medical director of vascular surgery at Bronson. “For patients who might not survive open-chest surgery, it could save their life.”

Endovascular repair is a relatively new procedure for the treatment of TAA. It is less invasive than open surgery and involves sealing off the aneurysm by placing a graft inside of the weakened section of the aorta and creating a new path for blood flow. The graft remains in the aorta permanently through the use of a metal stent, creating a tight fit and seal against the wall of the aorta. The device is inserted by a catheter through a small incision in the patient’s groin.

“The gravity of the situation overtook me when I realized how serious this aneurysm was,” stated Hulan-Chung. “The first thing on my to-do list upon hearing the news was to plan my funeral. But my surgeon, Sarat Vaddineni, M.D., reassured my husband and I prior to the surgery by telling us he did not need to open my chest and I would be out of the hospital in a day or two. I benefited not only from this new minimally invasive procedure, but also from the Bronson staff.”

Vaddineni, the first vascular surgeon to perform this new procedure at Bronson, states that Hulan-Chung was a great candidate for TAG. “While not all patients are candidates for this minimally invasive procedure, we can now offer this option to a wider range of patients versus an open procedure,” Vaddineni explained. “In addition, patients like Michele have an added benefit because we can collaborate with cardiothoracic surgeons during the procedure in the event additional problems arise.”

TAG is the first and only endovascular device approved by the FDA for treating TAAs. Prior to Bronson surgeons having access to this device, repair of TAAs was limited to traditional open surgical repair, a procedure many patients with complex pre-existing conditions could not endure. Patients able to withstand the traditional open surgical procedure are faced with risks during the operation, potential infection and long recovery times. In clinical trials comparing the TAG procedure to open surgical repair, TAG patients experienced fewer complications, significantly less procedural blood loss, shortened hospital stay and a two times faster return to normal activity.

Being the first hospital in the region to perform this new minimally invasive procedure is a direct result of Bronson’s $2.2 million state-of-the-art Endovascular Suite, opened last year. Combining the most advanced imaging technology, minimally invasive vascular procedures and an OR, the Endovascular Suite is dedicated to minimally invasive treatment of vascular disease. In the suite, diagnostics, procedures and surgery can take place in the same room, at the same table, without having to move the patient. The surgeon can begin a procedure in a minimally invasive way and convert to an open procedure if needed. The first of its kind in southwest Michigan, the Endovascular Suite benefits patients through faster, more accurate diagnosis of vascular disease; reduced risks and recovery time; reduced pain without a large incision; and minimal surgical scarring

Today, Hulan-Chung is back to enjoying life, walking the trails at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. “I have more energy and am continuing to lose weight,” Hulan-Chung said. “I no longer feel like I’m a ticking time bomb.”

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