"I would not have made it without UNC" - A Patient Success Story: UNC Aortic Disease Management

Mark Farber, MD, Director of Aortic Disease Management in the UNC Center for Heart and Vascular Care, successfully treats a patient from Charlotte, NC in aortic aneurysm clinical trial.

"I would not have made it without UNC" - A Patient Success Story: UNC Aortic Disease Management click to enlarge Mark Farber, MD, Director, UNC Aortic Disease Management
"I would not have made it without UNC" - A Patient Success Story: UNC Aortic Disease Management click to enlarge Betty Reynolds of Waxhaw, NC was successfully treated in a clinical trial for an aortic aneurysm device by UNC Aortic Disease Management

In February 2011, Betty Reynolds went shopping near her home in Waxhaw, NC.  It started off as a normal day, but during the shopping trip, she began to have stomach pains.  Thinking it was simply an upset stomach, she pushed on to complete her shopping.

“I’m footloose and fancy-free,” says Betty.  “I wasn’t going to let a stomach ache slow me down!”

By the time Betty arrived home, she was worse.  Much worse.  Her husband, Bill, took one look at Betty and insisted on taking her to Urgent Care.  Betty protested, saying it wasn’t that bad.  “‘WE ARE GOING’ is what Bill said to me.  He loaded me into the car and took off,” Betty stated.

Following an examination at the local urgent care clinic, the doctors suspected Betty’s discomfort was more than a stomach ache.  Upon the doctor’s insistence, Betty was transported via ambulance to Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte.  Following examinations by ER doctors and heart specialists, she was diagnosed with both an ascending and aortic arch aneurysm and a descending aortic aneurysm.  She was immediately admitted to the hospital and scheduled for surgery.  As her body was not strong enough to endure the repair of both concurrently, it was decided to address the more serious ascending aneurysm, and then monitor the remaining descending aneurysm for the time being.  The procedure entailed open heart surgery to administer the aortic arch aneurysm repair.

“I was in God’s hands,” Betty said.  “My doctor told my family I would be lucky to survive.”  In fact, Betty’s heart did stop beating for a short period of time during the procedure, but she was successfully resuscitated and the surgery was completed successfully.

“I was left here for a reason.” Betty says.

But she was not ‘out of the woods’ yet.  The long road to recovery from open chest surgery was a slow, painful, and stressful ordeal for the body which she has endured, and is still fighting to this day.  However, after several months of recovery it was determined that the descending aneurysm had grown significantly in size and needed to be addressed.  Another surgery was in the cards for Betty.  “I couldn’t handle any more surgery.  And recovery from the open surgery was so hard.”

Her surgeons in Charlotte advised Betty and her family that due to her slight frame, the normal procedure required for second surgery was not possible and that the alternative involved a significant amount of risk for survival.

According to Betty’s family, the doctors in Charlotte told her that her arteries were too small for the commercially available devices that could repair her aneurysm, unless they made incisions in her abdomen to get to larger vessels to deliver the device.  Not relishing another open chest repair and recovery, Betty’s family went to work to determine if alternative solutions were available.

Betty’s daughter, Tracie Weeks of Charlotte, began searching the Internet for vascular surgeons specializing in endovascular aortic repair.  In an endovascular repair, the surgeon would not have to open up Betty’s chest or abdomen.  The procedure would take place through Betty’s veins and arteries, which unfortunately were extremely tiny.  She needed something special that they just did not offer in Charlotte.

During her internet search, she found a potential solution just two hours from home with Mark Farber, MD, Director of the UNC Aortic Disease Management program.  After initial discussions with Dr. Farber’s team, Tracie became very optimistic in their clinical trial program and the family decided to head down this path.

Dr. Farber says, “We were in the midst of enrolling patients in a new trial to repair descending aortic aneurysms using a new stent graft, which was considerably smaller than anything else available.  We immediately scheduled Betty for a clinic evaluation because we knew we could help her.”

The study, entitled the Zenith TX2 TAA Low Profile Study, is only offered at two sites in North Carolina.  “I feel so lucky we found Dr. Farber,” says Weeks.  “I talked to a lot of doctors, all the way up to New York, and Dr. Farber was the aortic specialist recommended by several other physicians.”

Betty was found to be a match for the new clinical trial.  “I was number four to be assessed for the UNC trial,” Betty says proudly.  “They said I was a perfect candidate.”

Betty traveled to Chapel Hill in March 2012 for her endovascular procedure.  Betty says with a smile, “The guys from the manufacturer were even in the operating room.  They wanted to see if their device would fit through my tiny veins.”  The endovascular repair was a success.  Betty’s recovery time was shorter, and she experienced less pain and discomfort, thanks to the endovascular repair.

“I would not have made it without Dr. Farber,” Betty says.  “I could never put into words how kind and sweet everyone is at UNC.”

Betty’s primary care doctor still has to remind Betty to take it easy sometimes. “My body has been through terrible trauma.  It’s been stressful, but wonderful at the same time because of my treatment at UNC.  They were absolutely great.”

“I love my life,” says Betty. “I am so blessed.”

Story originally published here.