Repairing a Complex Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Karen McNew McGuire's picture
By Karen McNew McGuire on December 13, 2017

For Frank Huffman, riding a Harley is one of his favorite hobbies. As a combat-wounded Army veteran, he earned two purple hearts for his service, but after surviving his time in Vietnam, years later, he had no idea how fragile his life had become.

“I find out one day that I am a ticking time bomb,” said Mr. Huffman. “I had a brother that went through it a few years before me and it was terrible.”

The ticking time bomb was the discovery of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

“As these aneurysms grow, the risk of an intra-abdominal rupture is absolutely life threatening,” explained Josh D. Adams, M.D., a vascular surgeon at the Carilion Clinic Aortic Center. 

As a former smoker with a family history, Mr. Huffam was at an increased his risk for developing the aneurysm. He started looking at treatment options.

I met with the vascular surgeons at the VA and they said because of the location it was going to be a very tricky procedure,” Mr. Huffman said. “They said that they couldn’t do it, but they were going to send me to someone that could.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Adams had just joined Carilion Clinic and brought with him an advanced approach to surgery for complex abdominal aortic aneurysms. Like the one that Mr. Huffman had.

At my consultation, Dr. Adams sat down with me and explained to me what needed to be done and how it will be done,” said Mr. Huffman.

I like to use an analogy of a pipe in a wall, " explained Dr. Adams. "When I explain it to patients, I tell them that a pipe in their wall  is not working properly. It hasn’t started to leak yet, but it is a risk for leaking. An endovascular approach kind of kicks the floor board off, we get access to the pipe in that area. By using stents and wires and we can re-line that bad segment of pipe.”

Time is critical during a traditional surgical procedure because blood flow is cut off to the kidneys, but with a fenestrated endovascular repair, stent windows eliminate that challenge and dramatically reduce recovery time. 

And through Carilion Clinic’s Aortic Center, Dr. Adams is among a handful of locations in the country that offers this approach.

I felt like I had been wrapped in angel arms,” Mr. Huffman said. “I was floored. This was a prayer answered and it was unbelievable to have this man here that can do what I need and he is one of the few in the country. How does this happen? It had to be divine guidance.”

With such high hopes for the procedure, we followed Mr. Huffman through surgery and we were there when he came back for his follow-up with Dr. Adams to see if the results were everything he had hoped for.

“It could not look any better as a matter of fact,” said Dr. Adams.

They treated me like I was family,” said Mr. Huffman. “It made the whole process easier to go through, and I feel the best I have in 20 years.”

Appreciation from a man who has earned many thank you’s for service to his country and has now has many more moments to look forward to during his retirement.