Health Watch - Fixing Torn Hearts

Sam Einsidler looks perfectly healthy now. But less than a year ago, doctors told his mother he might not survive a terrible car accident.

"I said, 'Is there a chance he could die?'" says mom Terri Einsidler. "And [the doctor] said, 'Absolutely.'"

Sam's aorta -- which is the body's main artery -- tore during the accident, and blood ruptured out. Difficult open heart surgery used to be the only way to repair the injury, but the procedure is often risky and painful.

"A fair percentage [of patients] wind up paraplegic," says David Neschis, M.D., a vascular surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
But now, surgeons are using a technique that does the same thing -- without cutting open the patient's chest.

"It's cool," says Sam. "I didn't even know they could do that."

First, doctors make a small incision in the patient's groin. Then, using X-ray guidance, surgeons feed a catheter through the blood vessels to the heart. A stent containing a fabric graft opens inside the aorta to cover the injury and let blood to flow through it.

"It's like putting a new pipe inside the old pipe and letting it line from inside the area with the hole in it," says Dr. Neschis.

Technical success with the surgery is nearly 100 percent, and patients recover within a few days.

Though contact sports are out, Sam is finally able to play basketball again with his brother.

"He's terrific, and we know we're very lucky," says Terri.

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