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Your Healthy Family: Safer aorta repair procedure, key to Terry’s recovery

Posted at 11:22 AM, Feb 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-09 11:27:33-04

COLORADO SPRINGS – After being in a head-on collision in May of 2018, Terry Stauffer was in bad shape. Having his torn aorta repaired immediately – a potentially deadly injury -paved the way for long-term recovery from his other multiple traumatic injuries.

Dr. David C. Corry, a vascular and trauma surgeon at UCHealth Memorial Central Hospital in Colorado Springs, was responsible for Terry’s aorta repair.

Dr. Corry recalls: “The first responders did a great job stabilizing him in the field and transporting him to our Level I Trauma Center here at Memorial Central.  That is what gave us time to transport him here to our hybrid operating room to get a stent graft, placed into the area where he had the injury.”

If Terry’s aorta repair failed, he would never have the chance to recover from his other injuries says Dr. Corry.  “So what we did was take a catheter system to go through the patient’s arterial system, inserted at the groin to deliver a graft into position.  We are able to essentially deliver a seal to the leak of the aorta.”

Still a major surgery, the use of a catheter to insert the graft in the aorta is a vast improvement from the risky surgery that used to be involved with aorta repairs.

Dr. Corry says, “The older technology that we’ve had since the 1950’s involved clamping the aorta while we went in through an incision in the chest between ribs.  Then with the aorta clamped, we would sew in a graft, and the risk of that procedure was about a 10 percent risk of paralysis due to clamping of the aorta, and the arteries coming off it that feed the spinal cord with blood.  The fact that we can now introduce on a thin catheter without interrupting the blood supply at all has brought the risk of paralysis down to less than 1 percent with this procedure. It allows us to take a long procedure and do it very quickly and without a major operation that would make the recovery of his other injuries more challenging.”

As significant as his aorta procedure was, Terry feels like he “breezed” through it and because of his traumatic brain injury, Terry doesn’t remember much about his aorta repair.

Terry says he now knows, “I was not expected to make it through it.  But Dr. Corry gave me a pretty clean bill of health pretty early on as far as my repaired aorta.”

While fixing Terry’s aorta was the first major hurdle, recovering from his traumatic brain injury has been a long-term process he continued at Craig Hospital in Denver.

Terry remembers, “I will say about my time in Craig Hospital, I would describe it as a cloud. I was there and it’s like the fog lifted.  That’s when I started thinking more clearly. The work they did up there was pretty impressive.

Through it all, Terry says he feels blessed.  “There were a lot of things that took place (to save me) and it started with the ambulance by deciding to fly me (to Memorial Hospital).  That saved time of course, and time is of the essence. I think a lot of prayers were involved, a lot of prayers went up that helped me through this whole ordeal.”

Visiting with Terry today, he knows he’s come a long way, and says he works hard to remember that his future is bright.  “It’s very bright, but sometimes I have to tell myself that. I know I shouldn’t be here, so that right there in itself is good.  I can’t do a lot of things I used to do — I was very independent — that’s the part of it that’s frustrating. I’m hoping that’s all going to get better, and that’s what the docs say.”

Dr. Corry gives full credit for Terry’s recovery to the large team of providers who made it possible.  He is grateful he could do his part repairing Terry’s aorta in a procedure that was a keystone to a much larger recovery.  “The thing that is difficult to know about is his brain injury. That was really the thing even when I went out and talked to his family and his wife before my surgery that I was most concerned about. I felt really good about his aortic repair and that the orthopedic surgeons were going to fix his fractures in his pelvis and those things would all heal with time.  The big question in that type of head-on collision with that level of deceleration which was evident from his thoracic injury is how is his brain going to be? That’s really Terry, you know? Everything else we can fix. He had had an excellent recovery as far as that goes and that’s really gratifying.”

Terry also says that as his body and mind continue to heal, he has a new outlook on life and has a new appreciation for the little things. “It’s changed me a lot.  Now saying ‘drive safe’ or ‘have a safe trip’ means way more to me now. I truly mean that when I say it.”

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