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Local surgeon’s new technique shortens recovery for heart patients

If you had your choice of two days in the hospital compared to a stay of seven to 10, which would you pick?

The answer is obvious and part of the reason why two local men recently chose a relatively new surgery technique performed by Dr. Donald Jones, of Grass Valley, at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

Fred Johnson and Brian Lowe both chose to fix aneurysms on their aortas where they pass through their abdomens with a less invasive stent placement, as opposed to open abdominal surgery. The surgery is not for every abdominal aortic aneurysm or “Triple A” patient, Jones said, and both men had to qualify for it after extensive screening.



“It’s for patients with aneurysms over five centimeters,” said Jones of the dangerous bulges found on the main arteries of both men. “It’s done under general anesthesia and takes about three hours.”

A small incision is made in the groin to allow for a stent graft to be passed up through blood vessels to the aorta at the site of the aneurysm. The stent graft is a new blood pathway released inside the aorta to replace the damaged part of the artery.




Once in place, the aneurysm is no longer at risk of popping because the stent relieves the pressure on it, Jones said. Triple A’s that do burst cause dangerous internal bleeding and often, death.

Jones still does regular Triple A surgeries where the abdomen is opened up to sew a synthetic replacement onto the aorta to replace the aneurysm. But that procedure results in a seven- to 10-day hospital stay, “and full recovery takes up to three months,” Dr. Jones said.

“With this technique, you’re in the hospital one to two days, with 90 percent recovery in two weeks and full recovery in a month,” Jones said. “There’s less surgical stress and blood loss and less pain.”

Lowe, 60, of Grass Valley, woke up from the surgery in March “with a little bit of pain but nothing big … I was in there 28 hours from the time I walked in until the time I walked out.”

Eight days later, he was pitching and putting a golf ball, and the week after that, he was playing a full round.

“It was pretty damn simple,” said the former Bay Area tugboat worker. “I’d rather go there instead of the dentist.”

Johnson, 79, of Alta Sierra, had his surgery in February. Prior to that, the former sales manager talked to two friends who had had the traditional Triple A surgery, which resulted in lengthy hospital stays and home recoveries.

“I was out of there in two days, and in five weeks I was playing golf,” Johnson said. “I went into the operating room at 7:35 (a.m.) I woke up at 1:15 (p.m.) and had no pain. A four o’clock, I was walking around with a little discomfort from the groin incision, but that was all.”

Both men said they have been fine ever since and would recommend the procedure to anyone.

According to Jones, the endovascular surgery technique was first experimented with in 1991 and has been used in mainstream private practice for the past five years. The vascular surgeon learned of the technique through medical literature and conferences.

“As it became safer and safer, I felt it was time to bring it to the community,” Jones said. He learned it hands-on under the eye of an expert surgeon at the Arizona Heart Institute in Phoenix.

Jones said the Triple A problem is often found by doctors during routine physical exams or when a patient is being X-rayed for something else. He estimates about 30 percent of the patients with Triple A qualify for the new technique.

According to The Mayo Clinic Web site, the technique still has risks, like any other surgery, “and long-term results are unknown. Still the procedure may benefit those who need surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm but are at high risk of complications because of pre-existing medical problems.”

For more information about the procedure and the equipment Jones uses, log on to http://www.MedtronicVascular.com and http://www.AneuRx.com. Jones can be reached at 272-9963.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

A “triple A” is a bulge in the body’s main artery, the aorta, as it passes through the abdomen on its way to the heart. If not fixed, the bulge can burst, causing internal bleeding, which often leads to death.

Most aortic aneurysms are caused by atherosclerosis, which is fat building up on the wall of the aorta that weakens it. High cholesterol and fat in the diet contribute risk to the condition, as does smoking.

Albert Einstein, Lucille Ball and George C. Scott all died from a triple A, the 13th leading cause of death in the United States.

Information from The Mayo Clinic and Medtronic, Inc.


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