It was just supposed to be wrist surgery. But when Ron Hall, an 80-year-old retired structural steel worker from Blue Earth, Minnesota, was preparing for his procedure, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, doctors noticed something else. They discovered that the major artery that carries blood through his stomach was "in high danger of rupturing." When given this news, Ron and his wife, Val, considered their options. And then, Val says her "brain clicked on that we were near the Mayo Clinic."
At Mayo's Rochester campus, Ron came under the care of surgeon Gustavo Oderich, M.D., and received a treatment he likely wouldn't have received elsewhere. He became the first person in the country to receive an experimental abdominal aortic stent that would help "shore up" the "bulge in his abdominal aorta." That was possible, the newspaper reports, because Mayo Clinic is one of the "handful of medical facilities across the country" to have approval from the U.S. government to carry out applied research, or "early feasibility studies," on the device.
By the time he came to Mayo, Ron tells the Star Tribune, his aneurysm had gotten so large that doctors told him it could "cause me to tip over any minute and die." To keep that from happening, Dr. Oderich and his surgical team implanted the "specially designed" stent in his abdomen to keep his blood flowing "without the risk of blowing open a 9-centimeter weak spot." First, however, they used a 3-D printer to "make a model of Ron's abdominal aorta" to allow them to simulate the entire procedure "the day before it actually took place." Thanks to that prep work and a skilled surgical team, the Tribune reports that Ron is back home and on his way to a "complete recovery."
Dr. Oderich also credits Mayo's ability to use early feasibility studies to help "high risk" patients who don't have alternative treatment options. For manufacturers, these studies provide a path to bring products to market more quickly, according to the newspaper. The stent's manufacturer, W.L. Gore and Associates, is working with a handful of medical centers to test the device, as well. Dr. Oderich tells the paper he's also "testing other aortic abdominal stents" in "larger, later-stage feasibility studies" to try and help them become more widely available to other patients like Mr. Hall. That's good for patients and helps fuel further advances. "If this type of early feasibility becomes more frequent, you will drive development of devices forward and bring technology earlier to physicians in the United States," Dr. Oderich says.
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