Health Team

Device treats enlarged aortas

Last year, 72-year-old James Floyd felt severe pain in his abdomen. Doctors couldn’t find a problem.

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HENDERSON, N.C. — Last year, 72-year-old James Floyd felt severe pain in his abdomen. Doctors couldn’t find a problem.

Then at a free health screening near his Henderson home, a simple ultrasound test found that his aorta – the largest artery in the body – was enlarged.

“They wanted me in 48 hours to go to the emergency room or either go to my doctor,” Floyd said.

The ballooning aorta could have burst at any time, so he went to UNC Hospitals.

“Most patients, about 75 percent, do no have any symptoms whatsoever,” said Dr. Mark Farber, a vascular surgeon at UNC.

Floyd's pain was a sign that his aneurysm was so advanced that it was pressing on other organs.

Open surgery to sew in a stent graft was one option, but Farber performed a minimally invasive technique to implant a Zenith Flex AAA Endovascular Graft – a new polyester lining for the diseased section of the aorta.

“The device comes in varying lengths and diameters, so we tailor the device to fit to the patient,” Floyd said.

Older stents were too large for the smaller arteries of women, so Farber said doctors “reduced the size of the catheter by about a third.”

The smaller catheter reduces the chance of injuring arteries.

The big advantage for Floyd was a faster recovery, compared to the standard open surgery.

“I didn't stay in the hospital but about two days and a night,” Floyd said.

About five days after the surgery in June, he was fully recovered.

Those at highest risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm are men aged 65 and older, smokers and those with a family history of the disease. Anyone at a high risk is encouraged to have a simple ultrasound screening test.

Typically, if the disease is caught, it's discovered incidentally while doctors are looking for other problems in the abdominal area, like the kidneys.

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Allen Mask, M.D., Reporter
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