New bizarrely named heart surgery is a proven life-saver

(NBC) - Walter Vives is lucky to be alive. He had two ticking time bombs inside of him.

"The aneurism was here and here. There's two of them," Vives said.

His problems started in December.

"It was a sharp, sharp pain at first," Vives said.

That pain was the bottom of his aorta tearing.

"The aorta is the big artery that leaves the heart so all the blood that leaves the heart has to go through this tube or the aorta," heart surgeon Dr. Joseph Lamelas said.

Lamelas is Chief of Cardiac Surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, FL. He points to two bulges in his patient's aorta that had to be fixed or they could burst. The surgery would involve stopping the patient's circulation.

"So in essence, the patient has no blood pressure for a certain amount of time. We know that 30 minutes is a period of safe circulatory rest, but as we pass 45 minutes, we start seeing changes, neurologic changes in the brain," Lamelas said.

Vives' aortic repairs would have taken an about an hour instead it took half as long because of a new technique with a funny name.

"A frozen elephant trunk," Vives said.

Lamelas said, "It's a device that's supported by wire stents so it stays open."

It replaces softer tubing that needs stitching.

"So by doing the frozen elephant trunk it will drop the operation a good 20 minutes, and every second counts in this operation. You're racing against the clock," Lamelas said.

Now Vives is up and walking with a new lease on life.

"Well I feel a thousand percent better from what I felt. The pain is practically all gone," Vives said.

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