Advanced Technology, World Class Care

At UNC Medical Center, two world-class treatment programs are operating out of one procedure room, outfitted with the latest devices and interventional technology.

Advanced Technology, World Class Care click to enlarge Members of the Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Program at work
Advanced Technology, World Class Care click to enlarge Members of the Prostatic Artery Embolization program at work

Since December of 2015, a new hybrid room in Vascular Interventional Radiology has allowed UNC physicians to perform advanced procedures that were previously performed in an operating room.

According to Arvilla Johnson, director of Interventional Radiology, the advanced technology and imaging capabilities add up to significantly reduced length of stay for patients.

The Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Program, led by Mark Farber, MD, has been consistently recognized as an international leader in the field, performing procedures considered too complex for many other medical facilities. In fact, Farber and his team have recently performed a procedure to implant a Thoracoabdominal Branch Endoprosthesis device. Farber’s team was only the second in the nation to perform such a procedure and the fourth in the world.

“This procedure and others that we are performing at UNC are truly leading edge,” Farber said. “In many cases it will be years before other institutions even contemplate offering that. We see patients from all over the world because we are one of the few places repairing these types of aneurysms.”

Augustine Elmo didn’t receive that particular device, but his surgery was no less innovative. In 2014, Elmo was among the first patients in the country to be implanted with a stent-graft for the treatment of complex (Type II, III, and IV) thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms (TAAA).

Elmo – who was living in Charlotte at the time – said his doctor referred him to Farber.

“It was fate that we found him,” Elmo said. “I’ll never forget something he said to me early on: ‘They typically don’t find these types of aneurysms until the autopsy.’”

At the time, UNC was one of only four facilities in the country approved to perform the procedure. Farber inserted ten different stents through small incisions in Elmo’s groin and armpit.

“I went in for the operation on a Monday, went home on Wednesday and was up and moving on Thursday,” Elmo said. “I never even took any pain pills and now nearly two years later I’d consider myself healed.”

Elmo, who now lives in Durham, is enjoying his retirement and now visits UNC only once every six months for follow ups.

Similarly, the Prostatic Artery Embolization (PAE) program, led by Ari Isaacson, MD, is able to offer patients this non-surgical option for the treatment of enlarged prostate that requires no hospital admission and, in many cases, produces an almost immediate improvement in symptoms.

Isaacson credits the advanced interventional technology available in this procedure room, which is the only one of its kind currently at UNC Hospitals.

“When you have the highest quality imaging, it allows you to be more precise during the procedure and decreases the amount of necessary radiation,” Isaacson said. “PAE is a challenging procedure and not a lot of places across the country are doing them. That’s why we see people making a point to travel here for this procedure. In fact, we have treated multiple international patients.”

Greg Tuke of Silverdale, Washington, recently had the PAE procedure and said “In my mind, this procedure is a true breakthrough in treating enlarged prostate. Dr. Isaacson did a fabulous job and I was so appreciative of how attentive he was to my needs throughout the entire process.”

Charles Burke, MD, division chief, interventional radiology, said the greatest benefit of this procedure room is summed up in the fact that UNC can now perform procedures not available at many other facilities while also reducing length of stay and recovery time for patients who in some cases travel to Chapel Hill from across the nation and world to be operated on by himself, Farber, and Isaacson.

“We are able to treat people who we would not otherwise be able to treat, patients who may suffer from long-term disability if these procedures were not available,” Burke said. “And we can greatly reduce recovery time and get them back to normal activity much sooner.”

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