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'Anaconda' eases abdominal aneurysm surgery

December 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
They're often called silent killers: Abdominal aortic aneurysms are bulging blood vessels that rarely cause any symptoms, until it's too late. Fifteen-thousand people die every year because of a rupture. Doctors are using a new device to save lives.Ed Radzinski relieves the stress of the week by shooting at a gun range.

"It's just a good pastime for me, and my son and now I'm training my grandson, he's 9 years old, how to handle a weapon," said Radzinski.

Lately it was his health that caused the biggest worry.

"We watched it for six years and now all of a sudden I'm going to be operated on," said Radzinski.

Radzinski has an abdominal aortic aneurysm. It happens when the walls of the aorta expand and weaken.

Dr. Robert Winter, the director of the Florida Hospital Cardiovascular Institute, says in many cases the aneurysms aren't detected until people feel the pain from the ballooning artery -- pain that means it's about ready to burst.

"These are tough to find," said Winter. "The overwhelming majority of them do not cause symptoms."

Winter is testing a device called the "Anaconda." The nylon and wire stent snakes its way through tricky anatomy, and blood flows through the device, which protects the aneurysm wall from rupturing.

"A lot of anatomy is not straight-lined," said Winter. "It can be very tortuous or curvy."

Doctors managed to spot Radzinski's aneurysm in time. He enrolled in the study and had the stent put in through a catheter inserted in the groin.

Traditional surgery means a 6- to 10-inch incision, a week in the hospital and two to three months recovering. With the Anaconda, 2 inches or smaller, you're home in one to two days, and back to normal in just a few weeks. It gave Radzinski valuable time and peace of mind.

"I'm fine, I'm healthy and I'm going to go back to what I used to do," said Radzinski.

One-hundred-eighty patients at 40 hospitals across North America are participating in the trial. The device is already being used in Europe and has been implanted in more than 7,000 patients.