Helen Sweet: Minimally Invasive Vascular Surgery Saves Woman From Ruptured Aneurysm

09/27/16

Helen Sweet’s quiet morning coffee with family was shattered by the most intense pain imaginable. Tearing straight across her torso. Unrelenting and all-consuming. Words would not form. All the 72-year-old Hadley resident could do was scream and flail her arms.

At Glens Falls Hospital’s Emergency Department, medical images led to a fast and dire diagnosis: an abdominal aortic aneurysm, perilously close to rupturing. The aorta is the main artery in the body, running down the center of the torso and branching off to carry blood to the lower extremities. An aneurysm is a weakening and bulging of the aorta. If it ruptures, it’s most often deadly.

Vascular surgeon Dr. Manish Mehta of Vascular Health Partners and the hospital’s Vascular Surgery team quickly prepared for an endovascular aortic aneurysm repair — a minimally invasive technique in medical instruments are guided into the body through tiny incisions to repair the aorta rather than using major, open surgery.

“I heard Dr. Mehta say, ‘Get her ready for the OR right now,’” Helen recalls. The next thing she remembers is waking up the next morning.

What happened in between saved her life.

Moments after she was on the operating table, Helen’s aneurysm burst, resulting in massive internal bleeding. With only minutes to spare, Dr. Mehta thread a balloon catheter to the site of the rupture through a small incision in Helen’s thigh, and inflated the balloon to halt the bleeding. He then navigated a branched stent graft —a mesh tubing shaped like a pair of pants and covered with a thin fabric —to the site of the rupture through a second small incision in Helen’s femoral artery. Once in place, the stent graft took the place of the ruptured aortic wall and allowed for the return of normal blood flow. Through one final incision, Dr. Mehta inserted a guide wire instrument, which he used to grasp and extend the stent’s two “pant legs” and direct healthy blood flow to Helen’s extremities.

When she awoke the next morning, Helen says, she was pain-free. Two days later she was home and feeling ready to resume normal activities. “I never had any pain from the procedure. The incisions, you can’t see anymore. That was easier to recover from than childbirth.”

Overall, she says, her experience at Glens Falls Hospital couldn’t have been better. “The nurses and others who took care of me were as sweet and pleasant as can be. You would have thought we were old friends the way we visited.”

“I’m just so appreciative to Dr. Mehta and the Vascular team,” Helen says. “They saved my life.”

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