Woman with rare aneurysms gets life-saving surgery

Posted at 1:13 PM, Feb 15, 2018

Imagine two highly skilled surgeons taking care of you? As Susan Watson found out, it’s now a reality at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital’s new Institute for Advanced Aortic Disease.

More than a year ago, a visit to her doctor for bronchitis, led to an alarming x-ray. Her doctor immediately sent the 68-year-old for further testing which revealed several aneurysms.

“They said if I don’t take care of the aneurysms now, they are going to burst,” Watson said.

However this wasn’t your typical surgery. As Dr. Rick Kirshner, co-director of the new Institute for Advanced Aortic Disease explains, her situation was dire.

“She had an aneurysm through her entire aorta, something very unique. It started at the root, worked all the way up, went into the blood vessels that go into the brain, worked down into her chest and then went into her abdomen,” Kirshner said.

Sound complicated? It is. The good news is with Abrazo Arizona’s Heart Hospital’s new institute, they have trained for these severe cases.

“We’re trying to build a combination of the cardiac surgeons with Dr. Kirschner, the vascular surgeon with me, the endovascular surgeon and a team of nurses and nurse practitioners. They will take care of the patients before they come in, do all the testing and follow the patients after the procedure is done,” said Dr. Venkatesh Ramaiah, co-director of the Institute for Aortic Disease.

One of the main problems with Susan’s surgery was not with the surgery itself, but trying keep the body functioning during this major procedure said Kirshner.

“Dr. Ramaiah and I had to figure out how to re-plumb this whole blood supply and keep her organs fed with blood. So we had to map it out using diagrams and different models to figure out how to do that.”

And that’s one of the many benefits of having two surgeons who specialize in treating different aortic conditions in the operating room. The other? Having four eyes instead of two, plus a wealth of knowledge.

“He’s done and seen things I’ve never done before. And I’ve done and seen things he’s never done before. The work I do in the ascending aorta and the work he does in the abdominal aorta is very different. So we can look at a problem, come at it from different directions and then come up with a solution very quickly,” according to Dr. Kirshner.

The surgery was a huge success and Susan has responded remarkably. She admits a lot of people didn’t expect her to make it out of surgery alive but says her faith in God and the amazing surgeons pulled her through.

“I’m so grateful to them, for their brilliance, for their giftedness, for their expertise and for their skill. Without them, I truly believe I would not be alive today,” says Susan.