Health Headlines: Protecting the brain during surgery

Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 6:53 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - As doctors learn more about how to increase a patient’s chance of survival during a deadly aortic dissection, one procedure called hypothermic circulatory arrest is becoming more common.

An aortic dissection is a tear in the aorta, the largest artery in the body. When it splits open, it usually means almost sudden death. But some are lucky enough to make it to an operating room where doctors have to quickly repair the damage. Unfortunately, this emergency surgery can also put the heart and brain in danger.

Dr. Truc Ly is a cardiothoracic surgeon with Baptist Health System and explains just how dangerous an aortic dissection is, “Fifty percent of the time, people who present with dissection don’t make it to the hospital. Of the people who do make it to the hospital, only half of those survive.”

With only an approximately 25% survival rate for the condition, Dr. Ly says time is a critical factor.

“The way we’ve gotten better results is by understanding how to protect the brain during surgery. What we call antegrade cerebral protection.”

One procedure that helps is by inducing hypothermia in the patient, cooling their body to preserve the brain during the heart-lung bypass.

“What we call hypothermic circulatory arrest, it’s where we cool the body down and stop all blood flow to the rest of the body.”

Sandra Fernandez is one such patient who survived an aortic dissection after undergoing the procedure. Using hypothermia to protect Sandra’s brain, Dr. Ly was able to remove the aneurysm and replace Sandra’s heart valve during the operation.

“Whatever we’ve been able to fix, will stay that way for the rest of her life,” says Dr. Ly.

Sandra says she woke up in recovery to a very happy family and is now back to enjoying life, cooking for her kids, and using her grandmother’s precious recipes, “I feel happy because I say, ok, I’m here again, I survived!”

An acute aortic dissection can be sudden and is marked by intense chest pain. Doctors say that for each hour that someone delays going to the hospital, the chance of death increases by 1%.