MED Performs Lifesaving, Less Invasive Aorta Repair Surgery

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The Regional Medical Center is leading the way in a new aorta repair surgery that is saving lives. It's all due to a little piece of "magic metal" and the most experienced doctor in the country, right here in Memphis.

This surgery is saving lives when people suffer a type of aorta injury that is common in crush and high impact situations like car and ATV accidents.

It is especially meaningful to me, because it saved the life of my sister, Sara Gauck. Sara left the Med just eight days after an ATV accident that nearly killed her. It’s the metal stent graft, with unusual properties that saved her life.

"The magic metal, it is very cool," said Sara. "I have magic metal in my heart."

Sara needed the metal stent because of a crush injury to her aorta. She was airlifted to the Med's trauma center after the ATV flipped and landed on her chest. The trauma team found several serious injuries: a collapsed lung, a broken collar bone, several broken ribs, and the injury that threatened Sara's life, a tear in her aorta.

"That scared me a lot," said Sara. "I didn't think it was anything serious, so when they told me I was going to need heart surgery that was very scary."

Sara had emergency surgery the next morning. Doctor Michael Rohrer was called in to do the stent graft procedure.

"We have a chance to take care of a life threatening problem in a very non-invasive way," said Dr. Rohrer. "And it really represents a quantum leap in taking care of people who have a really serious injury."

Dr. Rohrer said as recently as five years ago, an aorta could only be repaired by opening the chest. The stent graft is a special metal alloy that is thin at most temperatures. It is fed into the body through a small incision in the groin. And at body temperature it opens up to form the shape of the aorta.

With 39 procedures under his belt, Dr. Rohrer is one of the most experienced doctors in the country in this new procedure.

"I have no doubt it saves people's lives," said Dr. Rohrer. "It is taking place at the Med, which people I think here take for granted to a great extent. But this is an amazing thing to have this focus of concentration of an expertise."

Sara will likely have the metal stents in her aorta the rest of her life. They can get through a metal detector, but are glowing circles on x-rays.

"It’s interesting to see, because I didn't know exactly what it looked like until about four days after the surgery. So when I saw that, it was interesting to see that inside of me."

But that little bit of metal is the reason Sara is leaving out of the hospital eight days later and possibly leaving the hospital at all.

"Very lucky, very lucky that he was my doctor and he knew exactly what to do, very experienced," said Sara. "I couldn't have asked for a better doctor for it. I never thought it would happen to me, a little scary that it did, but I'm glad I'm making a full recovery."

Sara will have to go back once a year for the rest of her life to have her aorta looked at, but should have no other repercussions from the accident.