Brain surgery is getting much easier for many patients. Neurosurgeons are using catheters rather than open surgery to repair aneurysms and other defects. Patients recover in a few days, with less chance of cognitive deficits.
Carolyn Davis checked into Loyola University Medical Center with a life-threatening brain aneurysm that caused the worst headache in her life. Traditional surgery to repair such a defect is highly invasive. It involves opening the skull, retracting the brain and placing a clip to seal off the ruptured aneurysm. Recovery takes months, and patients can suffer cognitive deficits.
But Loyola neurosurgeon William W. Ashley, Jr., MD, PhD, was able to repair Davis' aneurysm without cutting into her skull. He instead repaired the defect with a catheter that he threaded through her blood vessels up to her brain.
Davis went home with only a puncture wound where the catheter had been inserted. She has fully recovered from an aneurysm that, if left untreated, could have been fatal. "I'm very thankful for Dr. Ashley," she said.
An aneurysm is a bulge in a blood vessel. As the bulge expands, the artery wall thins. Eventually, it can leak or burst, causing damage similar to a stroke.
About 6 million Americans -- 1 in 50 people -- have brain aneurysms that potentially could rupture. Each year, aneurysms burst in about 25,000 people, and most die or suffer permanent disabilities, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.
Davis' aneurysm leaked and later ruptured, causing an excruciating headache and subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding in the area between the brain and the thin tissues that cover the brain.) "I had never felt anything like that before," Davis, 55, said. "I knew something bad was going on in my head."
Left untreated, the aneurysm almost certainly would have ruptured again, and this time, it could have been fatal or caused severe brain damage.
Davis, who lives in Chicago, went to the emergency room of a community hospital, which transferred her to Loyola.
Ashley used a less invasive endovascular technique to repair her aneurysm. He inserted a catheter (thin tube) in an artery in the groin and guided it up past the heart and carotid artery into the brain. Ashley then passed tiny coils of platinum wire through the catheter and released them into the bulging aneurysm. The bulge filled with coils, causing the blood to clot. This effectively sealed off the aneurysm.
"It likely is permanently fixed," Ashley said.
Ashley is among a new generation of neurosurgeons who are using this less-invasive endovascular technique to repair aneurysms and other vascular problems in the brain. He also is trained in traditional open brain surgery. With his dual training, Ashley can offer patients the safest and most effective treatment options for complex neurovascular disease. Ashley is an assistant professor in the Departments of Neurological Surgery and Radiology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
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