By Vanessa Kahin
There are only a handful of New Mexico doctors who can perform the newest procedure to repair a silent yet deadly condition. One resides in Roswell.
Donald Wenner, chief of surgery at Lovelace Regional Hospital, is the only physician in southeast New Mexico who is licensed to perform a minimally invasive procedure to repair abdominal aortic aneurysms.
Wenner described an abdominal aortic aneurysm as a condition that happens when the abdominal aorta develops a weakness, followed by a ballooning.
“We call it an aneurysm when it is over two times the normal diameter (of a healthy aorta),” he said.
“You can have aneurysms in a variety of blood vessels,” he continued. “The most common (is in the) abdominal aorta below the kidneys.”
Aneurysms are typically asymptomatic, Wenner said.
“Four to five percent of sudden deaths (in the U.S.) are from ruptured aneurysms,” Wenner said.
A graduate of Goddard High and the University of New Mexico, Wenner has undergone training and a series of proctor cases to perform the minimally invasive aneurysm repair procedure, which he has performed since October. Aside from Wenner, doctors in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Lubbock perform the surgery.
As the name suggests, the minimally invasive aneurysm repair is a fast surgery that lasts less than three hours and requires the patient spend only one night at the hospital. Wenner said the minimally invasive procedure involves first taking a CT scan of the femoral arteries — or blood vessels — that will be involved with the surgery. The surgeon makes a small cut in the patient’s groin, through which an endovascular stent graft is inserted and threaded up into the aorta. The stent reinforces the weakened part of the aorta. Blood then flows through the stent, and not the aneurysm.
The graft must be checked one month, six months, and at one year after the surgery.
The other type of surgery that is done to repair an abdominal aneurysm is typically called an open-abdominal surgery. It involves replacing the weakened part of the aorta with a synthetic graft. Since the surgery is more invasive, it also involves at least a seven-day hospital stay, a minimum of two units of blood and months of feeling sick as one heals from the surgery.
Although the more invasive aneurysm repair surgery is not always well tolerated by patients, not everyone is a candidate for the minimally invasive procedure, Wenner said. A good candidate would have healthy renal arteries and not have an aorta that has been extensively damaged.
Perhaps the best way to treat an aneurysm is early detection. Wenner said there are ways to screen for an abdominal aorta aneurysm, which is recommended for those who are at high risk of developing the condition. Those who are at a higher risk of developing an abdominal aneurysm include men, cigarette smokers and those with a family history of aneurysm.
An aneurysm can be found in the process of medical imaging, as with an abdominal ultrasound. Wenner said males between the ages of 55-60; and women between the ages of 65-70 should be regularly screened for aneurysms. Those with a family history of aneurysm should begin screening by age 55.
Wenner explained that aneurysms in women tend to rupture at smaller sizes than in men. Wenner cautioned that the symptoms of a pending aneurysm rupture include pain in the back, chest, buttocks or groin. He said that if someone is feeling such symptoms, they should get to the emergency room immediately.
Dr. Donald Wenner