When he was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm 10 years ago, 78-year-old Jerry Austin of Pearisburg, Virginia, had no choice but to be patient and wait. Doctors told him: “No surgeon will touch it right now, because it's still relatively small.”
The aneurysm may have been too small for surgery at the time, but it was big enough to cause Jerry to worry. And for good reason.
What Is an Aortic Aneurysm?
An aortic aneurysm is a weakness in the wall of your aorta. The largest artery in the body, the aorta carries oxygen-rich blood out from your heart through your chest, abdomen, and away to the rest of your body. (Veins, on the other hand, bring your blood back to your heart.) Pressure inside your aorta causes the weakness to bulge out, like a balloon.
If an aneurysm grows large, it can cause a leak or a tear in the wall of the aorta (called a rupture). This is an emergency that can cause death from bleeding.
“They call these a ticking time bomb. They can rupture at any time,” says Jerry.
This is why watching the aneurysm is important. Doctors also may give you medicine or suggest lifestyle changes, like stopping smoking and eating a healthy diet, to keep the aneurysm from growing.
Jerry's Growing Problem
Jerry had many imaging tests over the years. They showed that his aortic aneurysm was increasing in size.
When his doctor finally recommended surgery, Jerry didn’t hesitate. “I'd done some research and I found out that UVA was the place to go,” he says.
Based on his health, Darrin Clouse, MD, a UVA Health vascular surgeon and head of the vascular and endovascular surgery team, found that Jerry had 2 good options for surgery:
- Open aortic aneurysm repair, which uses a large cut to get to the aorta to put in a special kind of patch, called a graft, to repair the artery
- Stent-graft repair, which uses only a small tube to get to the aorta to fix the ruptured artery
According to Clouse, the stent-graft aneurysm repair is easier on the patient and has a shorter recovery time. But, not everyone is a good candidate for it. Open surgery is more complex and with greater risks, but it’s also longer lasting. Jerry had some thinking to do.
UVA Health's Aortic Center surgeons are experts in all types of aortic aneurysm repair, including open surgery. We work with you to figure out your best options for treatment based on your health and preferences.
Open Aortic Aneurysm Repair: More Risk, Lasting Fix
Jerry knew that he wanted a treatment that would last. In spite of the increased risks associated with open surgery, this is the option he chose.
“Both my grandfathers died when they were right up near 100, so I'm looking at quite a number of years still to go. I didn’t want to have to go through [another surgery] 10 years down the road when I could have the aneurysm permanently repaired,” he says.
Clouse notes, “With open repair, once the aneurysm is resected (removed) and a graft sewn in, the aneurysm is gone, and we know the durability of that repair, long term, is quite good.”
Jerry was confident in his choice. And he had confidence in his surgeon, who had been in the U.S. Air Force, just like Jerry himself. “I learned a lot about Dr. Clouse. He has 30-plus years of experience. He did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and saved the lives of many of our soldiers,” says Jerry. “I knew I was getting a top-of-the-line vascular surgeon.”
Full Recovery After Open Aortic Aneurysm Repair
Worried About Getting an Aortic Aneurysm?
Many people find out they have an aneurysm when getting checked for something else.
With open aortic aneurysm repair, you may need a long recovery, according to Clouse. Jerry, however, was out of the hospital within 4 days. Within a month, he was back to walking 10,000 steps a day. But he still has a large scar across his stomach to remind him how lucky he was to catch the aneurysm early.
“A lot of people die from aneurysm because they don’t know they have it. My life has changed since the procedure because I no longer have to worry about it,” Jerry says.
In the video below, Jerry and his UVA Health surgeon share his story and discuss why open surgery was the right choice for him.