AAA common iliac artery aneurysm iliac artery aneurysm ruptured AAA training

If the odds are against the patient, who is for the patient?


The first patient, a man in his late 70’s, ruptured in the emergency room at around four in the afternoon on a weekday, which was fortuitous, as the hospital was fully staffed, fully armed. The patient had arrived only a bit earlier with the complaint of severe abdominal pain, and soon after getting his CT, arrested. CPR commenced as I arrived by Dr. Timothy Ryan, our chief resident at that time. 

Ruptured CIAA with CPR 1 -_1
a rupture
The patient was wheeled upstairs with ongoing chest compressions. The anesthesia and operating room staff started a bucket brigade of blood -there was enough staff to start a symposium. Within 5 minutes of hitting the operating, I poured betadine on the chest and belly and took a blade and cut open the abdomen. Blood poured out onto our scrubs and to the floor and our shoes. I pushed my hand into the retroperitoneum, gently sweeping aside the torn tissues and blood clot to feel the hill of the aneurysm. I walked over the slope of the aneurysm and tweedled my fingers around the aorta above the aneurysm. The cross clamp rode my fingers into position around the aorta. The patient, so very dead minutes before in the ED, came back as I began to feel a pulse above the clamp. The patient lived through the operation and the night where grim data -pH of 6.8, lactates in the double digits, four figure LFT’s, kidney failure all predicted a bad outcome. And yet he survived, and a few days later, a second operation to washout and close his belly which had been left opened and packed occurred, and he recovered. We still talk about that day now three years out, and while he thanks me, I thank the whole hospital because I don’t remember speaking very much -the right things just happened around me as we worked, the whole hospital and me.

More recently, while I was finishing up two urgent cases, I got a call that the patient with the leaking aneurysm had arrived from across town and was becoming hypotensive.

ruptured AAA -_1
another rupture
Gratefully, one of my partners, Dr. Christopher Smolock, was rounding that Saturday and stepped in to finish up the last of the two cases while I ran down to the patient, a man in his late sixties, who had arrived in our acute aortic syndrome unit.

IMG_7195 (1)
Dr. Christopher Smolock
We conversed, the patient and I, and he understood what laid ahead. We rolled him up to the OR, and while we were prepping and draping, my fellow, Dr. Francisco Vargas, looked to me gravely and said with certitude, “I think he’s dead.

Dr. Francisco Vargas
Chest compressions commenced and again, knife in hand, I cut him open from sterum to pubis and got the clamp on. It took 15 minutes of CPR to get a pulse back. I was very pessimistic as during the case, ridiculously bad lab data came back like a pH of 6.9, lactate above 10, no urine.

Graft Repair of Rupture
The blood bank sent down coolers like the kind you take to tailgates, only filled with blood and plasma. The aneurysm had grown like a rotten apple on a stick and the graft we needed to repair it was surprisingly short. He too made it to the ICU, and after a long recovery which included dialysis, a tracheostomy, and a reboot of the brain -the brain takes a while to recover from the anoxia, but his went “bonnnnng” like a waking Mac after days of spinning beach balls, and he started to follow commands. The morning before he transferred to rehab, we talked about what he could have done to prevent the rupture. Not knowing about it, not much, I replied. People traditionally lived to about 20-30 years of age, I said, before dying of disease, violence, or predation. Longevity has meant wear and tear on irreplaceable parts. We agreed it was good to be alive.

Ruptured aortic aneurysms are the sine qua non of vascular surgical practice. As a junior resident back in the antedeluvian 90’s, I remember one of my chiefs, Dr. Eric Toschlog, now a trauma surgeon out East, running a patient upstairs from the ER with a rupture, and before the attending arrived by taxi, had the graft in. When it became my turn, as a fellow working on a patient who had been helicoptered in from the frozen wastes of Minnesota, I remember playing a trick with my mind -that the patient was proportionally the same size as the rabbits I was working with in the research lab, that I was really big and the patient’s aneurysm very small. This works to calm the heart, steady the hand. Nowadays, my mind is blank, and my hands working reflexively.

There has been a series of papers that create scores that allow prediction of odds for survival, and both of these patients, particularly with their prolonged CPR, have greater than 90% predicted mortality on these measures. In this month’s JVS, Broos et al, in the aptly named paper, “A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm that requires preoperative cardiopulmonary resuscitation is not necessarily lethal” describe a 38.5% survival rate among their series of patients with rupture who had CPR (ref 1).

Practically speaking, no one I know would use these scores to decide to not operate. While many series show better survival for emergency EVAR compared to open repair, several randomized control trial failed to show better results when these methods were directly compared. A retroperitoneal approach is preferred by some in our group, but having tried both closed chest CPR with the patient in right lateral decubitus position and open cardiac massage -(both died), I prefer supine.

There is no survival if there is no attempt.


  1. J Vasc Surg 2016;63:49-54.
AAA common iliac artery aneurysm EVAR iliac artery aneurysm techniques

The Interrupted Natural History of Aortic and Iliac Artery Aneurysms


The patient, now in his 90’s, found out about his aortic and iliac artery aneurysms in his early 80’s, had been offered repair, but had refused. Several years ago, one of my partners emergently repaired his ruptured AAA (abdominal aortic aneurysm) via a retroperitoneal approach using a tube graft. At the time of the repair of the AAA, the common iliac artery aneurysms (CIAA’s) were not ruptured and would have added risky time to the repair. He survived and had a postop CT done about two years ago which showed his CIAA’s.

CT 5cm L CIAA 2014.png
Two years ago
The patient chose not to pursue repair of these aneurysms, I assume figuring that at his age, he’d again take the chance that he would pass on without the hassle of another procedure.

He was recently admitted for treatment of another condition, when his physicians noted a large visible pulsatile mass on his lower abdomen.


A CT scan was performed. It showed a 13 cm left common iliac artery aneurysm which was responsible for the visible puslatile mass and a large right common iliac artery aneurysm. The left internal iliac artery was thrombosed. His right common iliac artery aneurysm was over 5cm in size.

CT 13cm L CIAA preop

My partner, Dr. Ezequiel Parodi, was consulted for this case. He performed a percutaneous EVAR. The procedure was made difficult by tortuosity in iliac artery and the tube graft in the aorta requiring a secondary access from the arm to straighten out and advance the stent graft (aka body floss).

Dr. Ezequiel Parodi
In followup, the aneurysms decreased in size and showed no endoleak around a patent stent graft.

CT postop L CIAA (1)

Common iliac artery aneurysms expand at a rate proportional to their starting size and have increased rates of expansion in those with prior aortic aneurysm expansion (ref 1). Rupture probably signals a tendency to expand rapidly. There is evidence that iliac ectasia and aneurysms left over after tube graft repair (aorto-aortic) of AAA is benign and can be safely observed (ref 2), but these were all small at the start.

I had been trained at the dusk of the open surgical era and the dictum was aortobi-iliac bypasses to avoid future problems with the iliac arteries. With EVAR, and soon bifurcated iliac branched stent-grafts (currently on trial), staged repair of metachronous iliac aneurysms after tube graft repair of AAA has not only an appeal, but some logic as open bypass to iliac bifurcations, particularly in large men, is challenging and potentially morbid. This is a case of a patient who had a large iliac aneurysm that was not repaired initially due to the exigencies of ruptured AAA and had refused planned staged repair. His aneurysm grew from over 5cm to 13cm in 2 years time without rupturing. Such good fortune is very rare.

Vascular surgeons like to collect large aneurysm stories like fishermen talk about big fish. This is the largest unruptured common iliac artery aneurysm I have seen. While it is baffling to many who are in healthcare, it is important to understand noncompliance is common. Denial is a powerful urge, and a uniquely human one.




  1. J Vasc Surg. 2009 Apr;49(4):881-5
  2. Surgery. 2008 Nov;144(5):822-6.
AAA CTA EVAR open aneurysm surgery techniques training Uncategorized

Never Stop Following Stent Grafts -Type IV endoleak causing slow growth in 12 year old stent graft



The patient had undergone EVAR for bilateral common iliac artery aneurysm with the original Gore Excluder stent graft a dozen years before with coil embolization and extension to the external iliac on the larger side and femoral to internal iliac artery bypass on the other side. A coagulopathy, one of the clotting factor deficiencies, had made him high risk for bleeding with major open surgery. His aneurysms never shrank but remained stable and without visible endoleak by CT for a long time resulting in ever longer intervals between followup.


Between 2009 and 2013, there was subtle enlargement on the embolized side without a type I or type III leak, and the patient was brought back a year and a half later, with further growth of the sac.


This was a relatively rare type IV endoleak that was causing sac enlargement due to excessive graft porosity of the original Excluder’s graft material. Its treatment is either explantation or relining. We chose to reline the graft with an Excluder aortic cuff at the top and two Excluder iliac limbs.

2015-11-26 13_25_23

This was done percutaneously and in short followup, there has been stabilization and even some reduction in the aneurysm circumference.

CT Scans


It was long known that a certain percentage of PTFE grafts “back in the day” would sweat ultrafiltrated plasma. The relative porosity of the grafts allowed for transudation of a protein rich fluid.

Tanski W, Fillinger M. J Vasc Surg 2007;45(2):243-249.








This results in a hygroma formation. I remember seeing this in AV graft fistulae back in the 90’s -after flow was introduced, the grafts would start sweating! The newer grafts are lower porosity and this is seen very infrequently. Drs. Morasch and Makaroun published a paper in 2006 comparing parallel series of patients who received the original Gore Excluder (OGE), the currently available Excluder Low-Permeability Device (ELPD), and the Zenith device (ZEN). Sac enlargement occurred in equal measure between OGE and ZEN but zero was reported for the ELPD.

Haider S et al. J Vasc Surg 2006;44(4):694-700.

The ELPD had higher rates of sac shrinkage than the OGE, and equal rates of sac shrinkage compared to ZEN.

Haider S et al. J Vasc Surg 2006;44(4):694-700.

The diagnosis in my patient’s case came about through serial followup through a decade. While I doubt that the aneurysm would have ruptured in the same way as in a Type I, II, or III endoleak, I am sure it would have progressed to developing symptoms from aneurysmal distension or local pelvic compression.

Is it possible to visualize this kind of endoleak at the time it is suspected? I came across a case series from the Netherlands using Gadofosveset trisodium which takes longer to clear than the usual Gd-based MR contrasts and they successfully visualized transudative leaks in 3 serial patients with the original Excluder graft.

Cornelissen SA et al. J Vasc Surg 2008;47(4):861-864.

The problem is that Gd-based contrasts have toxicity, especially for patients with poor renal function. The protocol is time consuming. And I suspect that ten years out, a lot of grafts will have positive findings, especially cloth based grafts that are sutured to their supporting stents, without clinical basis for treatment as their sacs size are likely stable on a year to year basis.

That said, as we are well into the second decade of commercially available stent grafts, it is even more important than ever to continue lifelong followup even for what is assumed stable, patent grafts and anatomy.

AAA EVAR techniques

A Matter of Degrees: The Terrible Aortic Neck Solved With Geometry

CTA AAA with pancreatitis_1

The patient, a younger middle aged woman, was referred for treatment of a large, growing infrarenal AAA over 8cm in size complicating a severe pancreatitis. The pancreatitis occurred about a month prior to presentation and resulted in a substantial pancreatic leak. At the time of that presentation, her AAA was found incidentally and was about 7cm. In the interval, her pain resolved and she was asymptomatic. On examination, her abdomen was soft, and a large aortic aneurysm was easily palpable.

Pancreatitis with surrounding retroperitoneal fluid leak
Pancreatitis with surrounding retroperitoneal fluid leak
CT scan was performed showing an enlarging AAA over 8am and abundant retroperitoneal pancreatic fluid without abscess or infection. The AAA was infrarenal but complicated by a severely tortuous, short infrarenal neck with 90 degrees of angulation and about 8mm in length. As the pancreatic leak was yet early in the process, no pseudo aneurysms had formed. MRCP showed no active leak.

Short neck
Short neck

Greater than 90 degree neck angulation
Greater than 90 degree neck angulation
Other than the pancreatitis, the patient, who was in her 50’s, was an otherwise good risk patient.

The treatment options were:
1. Wait until pancreatic fluid resolution or pseudo aneurysm formation, then standard open repair of the large aortoiliac arterial aneurysm. Not desirable because of the relatively rapid aneurysm growth and current size.
2. EVAR -This is outside the IFU for any of the available devices because of the highly tortuous neck anatomy. While note shown, the external iliac arteries were 5mm in diameter, but in the absence of plaque, was possibly due to spasm. The Nellix device is yet on trial, but there are limits on how much you can straighten this neck. The devices with suprarenal stents end up straightening out the graft with deployment of the graft in an ellipse. This also means loss of seal zone length which decreases with oblique deployment. FEVAR is not possible because of this neck tortuosity as well but was considered briefly.
3. Homograft repair or Rifampin soaked graft repair -The former is costly and still susceptible to infection from a virulent organism as is the latter, but both are likely safe with likely foregut flora.
4. Neo-Aorta reconstruction (NAS) with deep femoral vein. This could work, but is time consuming and relatively morbid. The tactic of mobilizing the vein and then repairing the aneurysm in a separate, staged fashion the following day or two is reported to shorten the overall operative time. This patient would require both femoral veins to be harvested.
5. Aneurysm exclusion and extra-anatomic bypass with axillofemoral bypass. Offered to complete this list, this is the least desirable option given the poor long term behavior of axillofemoral bypasses in younger patients.

When faced with this kind of challenge, it makes sense and should be standard practice to get the opinion of the group. I happen to have excellent partners to run this kind of cases. The consensus was this: EVAR with accepting a short term result to temporize until definitive repair could be done. I found this acceptable. I chose to use the Excluder device because it allows for redos of the proximal deployment (C3 Delivery system) and the 23mm and 26mm devices used 16F access. A detailed discussion with the patient and the intention to eventually definitively repair open was discussed and patient was agreeable to proceeding. Plan B’s of Rifampin soaked graft replacement and NAS was also discussed.

I tried two things that was different. I felt that a stiff wire would result in horizontal orientation of the top of the graft, and so I placed a bend in the wire. Prior experience with unintended bends in wires have taught me that passing these wires is largely tolerated as long as it is done through catheters and sheaths. The other thing I did was bend the top of the delivery system -this was done with some care as I did not want to detach the contraining mechanism.




The wire and delivery system modification did tilt the top of the graft away from the left side of the aorta. It had the unintended effect of keeping the wall grabbing anchors away from the near wall while constrained.


It didn’t tilt the graft as much as I would have liked, but the graft deployed in a left to right fashion that allowed for controlled delivery across all of the available neck. Gratifyingly there was seal (below). I flared the right, while excluding the left iliac bifurcation because of the larger iliac aneurysm.

implant angio -46

As this was done percutaneously, the patient recovered rapidly and was discharged a day later. The question philosophically for me is if the seal remains intact, would there ever be a need for explantation? The patient only received perioperative antibiotics, and I felt long term antibiotics was not indicated. Standard followup was arranged.

There is no question there is a need for devices designed for this kind of neck anatomy. These devices need to bend over to angles at least 90 degrees and unbend based on delivery system design. They need to be low profile as this facilitated repair in this patient with small access vessels.

AAA EVAR techniques

The Last Vein


The deep femoral vein offers an important source of autologous conduit, particularly for aortic reconstruction or for limb salvage. It may be mobilized on one day and harvested another in a staged fashion to avoid a prolonged operation. While there is a period of leg edema postoperatively, most tolerate harvest of this vein which may be life saving.

AAA EVAR techniques training

A Troublesome Accessory Renal Artery Complicating a Complicated Patient

Preop Figure

The patient is an 65 year old man with a growing right common iliac artery aneurysm of 3.7cm, a small AAA, and severe COPD (not oxygen dependent, FEV 1.5L) . He had a prior left nephrectomy for cancer as well as a bladder resection and prostatectomy with an ileal conduit (Indiana pouch or neobladder), with complex abdominal wall closure complicated by infection of Marlex in the past, and prior operations for small bowel obstruction. He is morbidly obese. His kidney function was stable with a Cr 1.5dL/mL, calculated GFR or 44mL/min. His nuclear cardiac stress test (pharmacologic) was normal.

A magnified view of the accessory renal artery is shows below with the arrow

mag preop CT

He needed to have his right CIAA treated but the issues were what to do with his accessory renal artery. Vascular surgery is all about making the right decisions with fall back plans. As with most complicated patients, the options are numerous.

  1. Direct transabdominal open repair
  2. Open retroperitoneal repair –Left sided approach.
  3. Open retroperitoneal repair –Right sided approach
  4. Open debranching right accessory renal artery and EVAR
  5. Parallel graft to right accessory renal artery and EVAR
  6. Coil embolization right accessory renal artery, anticipate worst case postop GFR 20ml/min
  7. Medical management

I informally polled my partners and found an absence of consensus except for rejecting #1, 2, and 7. The first two options were not optimal because of his prior operation and because of the location of his disease. The third option had its proponents, but I felt that the kidney and pouch were in jeopardy from dissection in that area. The open debranching had its appeal for others, but for the same reasons that I rejected #3, I rejected #4 –potential harm to the kidney. #5 may be an option, but in my experience, I have seen too many patients referred for failure of parallel grafts to feel secure about offering it.  #6 would be reasonable if the patient could avoid dialysis. With a calculated CGF of 44ml/min, losing half the remaining kidney would barely leave him off dialysis. By appearances though, the smart money was on losing less than 50% but more than 20%. A 30% loss would result in a GFR of 30mL/min or a Cr of 2.1 which made dialysis not likely. In my experience, the kidney does have some collateralization as evidenced by backbleeding of accessory renals with an infrarenal clamp so it may be that he might lose only 10-15%. I discussed all of these options and medical management with the patient who agreed to proceed with option 5 under my recommendation. My plan was to assess the flow from the accessory renal and proceed if it was small, with plan B being a parallel graft, plan C debranching.


In the OR, the right accessory renal artery was selectively catheterized and a nephrogram revealed that it supplied less than 20% of the kidney. The above diagram shows the extent of the total kidney and the area perfused by the accessory renal artery. I proceeded with coil embolization of it and the right hypogastric artery and EVAR of the AAA/R.CIAA.

post CT

In followup, the patient had a Cr of 1.7mg/dL, representing about 15% loss of kidney function. As the case was done percutaneously, he only had 1cm incision in both groins, and was pleased with his result. No endoleak was seen (CT above).

The telling lesson about this case is that at the time of initial consultation, my first instinct was to prepare the patient for open repair via a right retroperitoneal approach with debranching of the right accessory renal artery as a fallback position. Open surgery is my fallback as it was the foundation of my training. But experience has also taught me that patients with multiple comorbidities often struggle to recover from big operations even if one particular problem is not prohibitively severe. Finally, having smart partners to bounce ideas off of is a not only a luxury but a critical asset.

AAA EVAR techniques training

Homemade laparoscopic suturing station -video

Tinkering in the basement, because bringing a laparoscopic tower and simulation setup into my house would be difficult.

AAA CTA techniques

Using TeraRecon for planning minimally invasive aortic surgery


From my notes

November 7, 2008 9:05 PM

Using TeraRecon for planning minimally invasive aortic surgery

Terarecon, Vitrea, Osirix, all allow for visualization of three dimensional CT data. The 3DVR (virtual reality) view, is often overlooked, but is an important feature of Terarecon. It is a synthesis of the axial data and does for you what you tried to do in your head back in the days of cut axial film -that is reconstruct a three dimensional picture from 2 dimensional sections.  This is a moderate risk patient, 65 years of age, with a 5.8cm AAA. The top image shows the standard 3DVR perspective with the surgeon standing on the patient’s left. By adjusting the levels, you can bring in the organs (not shown), and then the muscles (panel below).


You can then bring in the skin by manipulating the “window levels” -in TeraRecon this is done by pressing both left and right mouse buttons. This allowed me to plan the location of a skin incision (measuring 15cm) for a minimally invasive AAA repair.


While 15cm hardly qualifies as a mini-laparotomy, it is less than half the length of a “stem to stern” laparotomy.

OR vu

Dr. Jon Cohen et al. reviewed their experience with laparoscopic versus minilaparotomy averaging 8-10cm in length, and found that OR time, fluid given, and length of stay was superior in mini-laparotomy compared to open and laparoscopic assisted repair (ref).

Chart open lap

I would say that learning curve probably accounted for the difficulties with laparoscopic-assisted. In this patient the tube graft AAA took 2.5hrs, and patient was extubated post op and went home in 4 days. TeraRecon made short work of planning out the location of incision and was predictive of the viewing perspectives.

Addendum 11/30/2014

Using the 3DVR perspectives in thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms is indispensable for planning retroperitoneal thoracoabdominal exposures, and I will post an example.


J Vasc Surg 1999;30:977-84

AAA Commentary techniques

The Parallel Bar -higher than you’d think

eye tiger big

At last week’s Veith Symposium, there was a straw poll for parallel grafts versus fenestrated stent grafts in emergent setting, and the results were a populist parallelist majority. This is clearly the result of years of inability to access this technology and reflects market forces making the decision over careful science. There are clear examples of this in the past -the adoption of laparoscopic cholecystectomy and appendectomy, done without randomized control trials shows that RCT’s be damned, people and surgeons will get what they want.


The several presentations on parallel grafts caught my eye. First was the Eye of the Tiger technique which sounds like a kung-fu move. Presented by Dr. David Minion of the University of Kentucky, the gist of it is that the gutters created by parallel grafts can be obviated by reshaping the branch grafts from circles to lenticular shapes (illustration). The sequence of moves is to deploy a balloon expandable stent graft outside of the main graft and deploy it, then deflate the balloon. The aortic graft is then ballooned, crushing the branch graft. With the balloon inflated, the branch graft is then inflated, now taking a lenticular configuration. This, I will put in my tool box.

Bullfrog catheter tracking (top) and inflated for infusion (botton) with needle out.
Bullfrog catheter tracking (top) and inflated for infusion (botton) with needle out.

The other presentation was on the bullfrog catheter, by Dr. Christopher Owen of UCSF. It inflates to press the catheter portion of it in the middle of the length of the balloon against the stent graft wall. A penetrating needle then comes out through the graft material, allowing for infusion of a sealing embolic material. This has not been tried in humans but application in an animal model is ongoing.

The first time I saw Nellix, this is what I thought...
The first time I saw Nellix, this is what I thought…

I have a feeling parallel grafts will be with us for a while. Using these in conjunction with the Nellix graft, juxtarenal aortic aneurysms were treated, which brings me to think that with the inevitable progression of paravisceral segment aneurysm disease, we will be seeing secondary endobags (not a pejorative) for treatment of paravisceral aortic aneurysms with parallel grafts, and we will see something like this on CT scans one day (illustration). Mr. Ian Loftus of St. George’s Vascular Institute reported on 19 patients (11 single, 5 double, 3 triple branch) over 12 months who were unsuitable for OR/EVAR solutions, treated with 100% technical success, one type I endoleak. Dr. Michel Reijnen presented the Arnhem experience with this technique. Their series included 7 patients with juxta (5) or para (2) renal AAA’s (4 single, 2 double). He reported 100% chimney graft patency and no reinterventions in short followup. He presented a case of rupture, but warned that further investigation would be needed before using the endobag for rAAA.

I think that the whole issue points to several truths. Paravisceral and thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms have always been viewed with trepidation and this generally caused referral of these cases to high volume centers and surgeons during the open era. Experience with EVAR has infused a sense of confidence and with mastery of infrarenal EVAR and basic endovascular interventions, most practitioners feel ready to offer an endovascular solution to the visceral segment AAA’s, but feel locked out either through lack of training or inability to access the devices, particularly not having ready solutions on the shelf. These parallel graft systems offer relative ease of delivery and use readily available components. Even I have resorted to parallel grafts in an emergency with acceptable short term result (patient lived) but with uncertainty with durability.

I think that there will never be a completely satisfactory off the shelf, “every-surgeon” solution because these patients are no less complex when approached with endovascular technique -they just present a different set of equally difficult challenges. As in open repair of these complex aortic aneurysms, endovascular repair of these should aggregate to high volume practices and centers with deep experience.

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Hybrid graft suture less technique for visceral branches during open thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm repair.


Dr. Roberto Chiesa from Italy presented his experience in 61 renal arteries using the Gore hybrid graft today at the Veith Symposium The graft which I sketched above on my phone is their PTFE graft terminated in a Viabahn configuration. He reports a 10% acute renal failure rate and 90% primary patency in followup. This is something I’ve considered but never tried because the one extra anastomosis doesn’t add all that more time especially if a branched graft is used. Will revisit this concept.

Dr. Debus presented using this graft in a later talk for debranching visceral arteries in hybrid repair of TAAA.