When both iliac systems are occluded below an abdominal aortic aneurysm: hybrid techniques on the cutting edge

AAA with iliac arterial occlusion -arrows point to right external iliac and left common iliac arterial occlusions

The patient is an 70 year old man referred for evaluation of claudication that occurred at under a block of walking. He reported no rest pain or tissue loss. He smoked heavily up to a pack a day, with congestive heart failure with an ejection fraction of 40%, prior history of myocardial infarction treated with PTCA, and pacemaker, and moderate dyspnea on exertion.

On examination, patient had a flaccid abdomen through which the AAA could be palpated, and he had no palpable femoral artery pulse bilaterally, nor anything below. He had a cardiac murmur and moderate bilateral edema. Preoperative risk evaluation placed him in the high risk category because of his heart failure, coronary artery disease, and his mild to moderate pulmonary disease.
CTA (pictured above and below) showed a 5.1cm infrarenal AAA with an hourglass shaped neck with moderate atherosclerosis in the neck, an occluded left common iliac artery with external iliac artery reconstitution via internal iliac artery collaterals, and a right external iliac artery occlusion with common femoral artery reconstitution. There was calcified right common femoral artery plaque.

Preop left and right centerlines EVAR-ENDORE.jpg

Treatment options included open surgical aortobifemoral bypass with exclusion of the AAA, total endovascular repair with some form of endo-conduit revascularization of the occluded segments of iliac artery, or a hybrid repair.

Open aortic repair in patients with heart failure and moderate COPD can be performed safely (ref 1). Dr. Hollier et al, in the golden age of open repair, reported a 5.7% mortality rate operating on 106 patients with severe category of heart, lung, kidney, or liver disease.

Typically, the hybrid repair involves sewing in a conduit to deliver the main body of a bifurcated or unibody stent graft when endovascular access is not possible. Despite techniques to stay minimally invasive -largely by staying retroperitoneal, this is not a benign procedure (ref 2). Nzara et al reviewed 15,082 patients from the NSQIP database breaking out 1% of patients who had conduit or direct puncture access.

Matched analyses of comorbidities revealed that patients requiring [conduit or direct access] had higher perioperative mortality (6.8% vs. 2.3%, P = 0.008), cardiac (4.8% vs. 1%, P = 0.004), pulmonary (8.8% vs. 3.4%, P = 0.006), and bleeding complications (10.2% vs. 4.6%, P = 0.016).

Despite these risks, I have performed AUI-FEM-FEM with good results with the modification of deploying the terminus of the stent graft across an end to end anastomosis of the conduit graft to the iliac artery (below), resulting in seal and avoiding the problems of bleeding from the usually heavily diseased artery

AUI fem fem.jpg
Aorto-uni-iliac stent graft across end to end conduit anastomosis to fem-fem bypass

The iliac limbs of some stent graft systems will have proximal flares and can be used in a telescoping manner to create an aorto-uni-iliac (AUI) configuration in occlusive disease. The Cook RENU converter has a 22mm tall sealing zone designed for deployment inside another stent graft and would conform poorly to this kind of neck as a primary  AUI endograft which this was not designed to act as. The Endurant II AUI converter has a suprarenal stent which I preferred to avoid in this patient as the juxtarenal neck likely was aneurysmal and might require future interventions

I chose to perform a right sided common femoral cutdown and from that exposure, perform an iliofemoral remote endarterectomy of the right external iliac to common femoral artery. This in my experience is a well tolerated and highly durable procedure (personal data). Kavanagh et al (ref 3) presented their experience with iliofemoral EndoRE and shared their techniques. This would create the lumenal diameter necessary to pass an 18F sheath to deliver an endograft. I chose the Gore Excluder which would achieve seal in the hourglass shaped neck and allow for future visceral segment intervention if necessary without having a suprarenal stent in the way. I planned on managing the left common iliac artery via a percutaneous recanalization.

The patient’s right common femoral artery was exposed in the usual manner. Wire access across the occluded external iliac artery was achieved from a puncture of the common femoral artery. Remote endarterectomy (EndoRE) was performed over a wire from the common femoral artery to the external iliac artery origin (pictures below).

File Mar 31, 13 41 31.jpeg
External iliac to common femoral artery plaque removed with Moll ring cutter (LeMaitre Vascular) over a wire

The 18F sheath went up with minimal resistance, and the EVAR was performed in the usual manner. The left common iliac artery occlusion was managed percutaneously from a left brachial access. The stent graft on the left was terminated above the iliac bifurcation and a self expanding stent was used to extend across the iliac bifurcation which had a persistent stenosis after recanalization.

The patient recovered well and was sent home several days postprocedure. He returned a month later with healed wounds and palpable peripheral pulses. He no longer had claudication and CTA showed the aneurysm sac to have no endoleak (figures below).


postop centerline EVAR-ENDORE
Composite imaging showing normal appearing right iliofemoral segment (EIA + CFA) and patent left common iliac artery.

I have previously posted on using EndoRE (remote endarterectomy) for both occlusive disease and as an adjunct in EVAR. Iliofemoral EndoRE has excellent patency in the short and midterm, and in my experience has superior patency compared to the femoropopliteal segment where EndoRE is traditionally used. This case illustrates both scenarios. While the common iliac artery occlusions can be expected to have acceptable patencies with percutaneous interventions, the external iliac lesions typically fail when managed percutaneously especially when the stents are extended across the inguinal ligament. The external iliac artery is quite mobile and biologically, in my opinon, behaves much as the popliteal artery and not like the common iliac. Also, the common femoral arterial plaque is contiguous with the external iliac plaque, making in my mind, imperative to clear out all the plaque rather than what can just be seen through a groin exposure.

On microscopy, the external iliac artery is restored to a normal patent artery -I have sent arterial biopsies several months after endarterectomy and the artery felt and sewed like a normal artery and had normal structure on pathology. This implies that the external iliac can be restored to a near normal status and patients that are turned down for living related donor transplantation of kidneys can become excellent recipients. In this case, this hybrid approach effectively treated his claudication but also sealed off his moderate sized AAA while not precluding future visceral segment surgery or intervention with a large suprarenal stent.



  1. Hollier LH et al. J Vasc Surg 1986; 3:712-7.
  2. Nzara R et al. Ann Vasc Surg. 2015 Nov;29(8):1548-53
  3. Kavanagh CM et al. J Vasc Surg 2016;64:1327-34

Moneyballing a Type II Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysm

The innovation of sabremetrics in baseball management and finance as described in Michael Lewis’ wonderful book Moneyball wasn’t just the ability to quantify skill to predict outcomes, it was the ability to assemble that skill without overpaying. For a baseball team on a budget, spending all your payroll on a superstar makes no sense when you can get equivalent quants of skill in a statistical aggregate of no-name players with proven metrics. Rather than pay for an A-Rod, you can recruit, and pay for, 5 players that in aggregate, statistically achieve what you would get with a healthy A-Rod, so the thinking goes. How does this translate into vascular surgery? Can we arbitrage complication rates?

The open repair of type II thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms is a heroic endeavor, putatively best done by surgeons wearing cowboy boots, and classically comes with sobering complication rates that exceed 20% for death and paralysis. Is it possible to reduce this risk by subdividing this most enormous of cardiovascular operations into component parts?

The patient is a middle aged man in his 50’s who presented with a type B aortic dissection. His dissection flap spanned from his left subclavian artery to the infrarenal aorta. He was a long time smoker and had hypertension that was difficult to control, made much worse after his dissection. He had a moderate dilatation of his thoracic aorta, maximally 36mm and tapering to 35mm in visceral segment. There was a 4.9cm infrarenal AAA where the dissection terminated.

CTA at presentation

His chest pain resolved with blood pressure control and he was discharged, but in followup his thoracic aortic segment grew and his blood pressure worsened, never getting below a 150mmHg systolic despite multiple agents. CTA two months after presentation, showed growth of his TAA to 44mm from  36mm in two months  and the visceral segment showed that his dissection flap impinged on flow to the right renal artery. His AAA remained the same. He continued to have bouts of chest pain related to hypertension.

CTA at 2mo post presentation

Twenty years ago, the board answer would have been to replace the whole aorta. In young, otherwise healthy man who had been working in road construction up to the dissection, he would have been considered a candidate for a direct open repair of the type II thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm. From the landmark paper out of Houston by Dr. Svensson in 1993, open type II TAAA repair was associated with about a 10% death rate and 30 percent paralysis rate. Waiting a few months for the aneurysms to grow further in this patient, in the 90’s this patient would probably have ended up with an open TAAA repair. Good thing we have better options.

The goals of modern therapy are to treat the urgent indication while holding off repair of less critical segments of the aorta, and to do so in a way that each operation builds on the previous one.

This patient needed a left subclavian artery debranching and then TEVAR of his dissecting thoracic aortic aneurysm, and intervention on his right renal artery. We did this in one setting performing first a left carotid subclavian artery transposition and then percutaneous TEVAR from the left common carotid artery origin to the supraceliac abdominal aorta.

TEVAR with carotid SCA transposition

completion TEVAR.png

The completion aortography showed good deployment of the CTAG device from the left common carotid artery origin to the celiac axis origin. The false lumen was no longer visualized. The right renal artery which was narrowed was treated with a balloon expandable stent.

The distal thoracic aorta, the true lumen was constrained by a chronic dissection flap. It is here I gently dilate the distal thoracic stent graft with the hopes of eliminating the distal false lumen. This is different from the acute dissection where I rarely balloon.

The TEVAR was done percutaneously, minimizing the overall time in the operating room. The technical details of the transposition can be found in the excellent paper by Dr. Mark Morasch.


renal PTAS

When I do this procedure for acute dissection, I quote the patient a general risk of stroke, paralysis of about 2-5% and death of 1-2 percent for someone with low cardiopulmonary risk like this patient had. He recovered rapidly and went home post op day 5.


Followup post TEVAR

He at 6 month post TEVAR followup, CTA showed stablility in his thoracic aorta. in infrarenal AAA grew from 5.0 to 5.7cm between the 1 month CT and the 6 month CT.

6 month CTA imaging

The terminus of the stent graft excluded the false lumen in the thoracic aorta but also resulted in filling and pressurization of the false lumen beyond and can be seen as a 44mm lateral dilation of the visceral segment of the aorta which had developed in the 6 month interval since the TEVAR.
The infrarenal neck continued the dissection and had dilated to about 36mm, but was parallel for a good length above the AAA. I decided to treat the inrarenal aorta with direct transabdominal repair. This would allow me to fenestrate the aorta, and possibly prevent further growth of the viseral segment while reserving the retroperitoneum for the visceral segment repair if it came to it. The neck diameter was 36mm.

tube graftHis operation was performed via an anterior approach with the patient supine. A tube graft repair was performed expeditiously and included resecting the dissection flap up to the clamp. Care was taken to avoid injury to the renal stent. The proximal anastomosis went well – the dilated aorta yet had strong tissue strength. A felt strip was used to buttress the aortic side of the anastomosis. The estimated risk of paralysis was less than 1% and risk of death was less than 2%. The patient recovered uneventfully and went home on POD 5.

He did well in subsequent followup, having successfully quit smoking. He retired early on disability and was becoming more active, but the visceral segment dilatation was concerning. At 6 months post infrarenal AAA repair, he underwent CTA and it showed patent thoracic stent graft and infrarenal abdominal graft. The intervening visceral segment continued to enlarge and was now 46mm. The decision was to wait another interval 9 months to see if this would stabilize. The segment grew some more and was 49mm. He wanted to give it another 6 months and at that time, CTA showed further growth over 5cm, and he had developed some abdominal discomfort. He was taken to the operating room.


A four branch repair of the visceral segment thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm was performed. The diaphragm was taken down and the stent graft was clamped as was the infrarenal tube graft. A premade Coselli graft was used to bypass to the right renal, SMA, celiac, and left renal in those order. The patient had a CSF drain for the case which was removed on postoperative day 2. He recovered rapidly and went home on postoperative day 6. His estimated risk of paralysis was about 2-5%, mitigated by a protocol centered on CSF drainage and blood pressure control. His risk of death was 5%. Telephone followup reveals the he is pain free at a month out and functional nearly at baseline.

This illustrates the notion that three smaller operations in an aggregate over three years achieved the equivalent of the single big open type II TAAA repair.

Illustration on left from Svensson et al.

The idea is to make each step achievable -like coming down a mountain taking three days on well marked paths rather than base jumping off the summit.

Clearly, the patient was younger and a fast healer, and credit must also be given to the anesthesia/critical care team who see high acuity cases in volume every day and not every patient can expect to have such short stays and excellent outcome, but these are far more likely if operations are planned out in such a manner.


Svensson LG, Crawford ES, Hess KR, Coselli JS, Safi HJ. Experience with 1509 patients undergoing thoracoabdominal aortic operations.  J Vasc Surg 1993;17(2):357-36.


When Better is Better Than Good

original bypass

The dictum that better is the enemy of good is one of the old chestnuts carried around surgery training forever. It is an admonition against an unhealthy perfectionism that arises from either vanity or self doubt, and in the worse cases, both. The typical scenario is a surgeon trying to make a textbook picture perfect result and finding the patient’s tissues lacking, will take down their work to make it better, and repeat this process while the patient and everyone else in the room lingers.

Trying to avoid this, many surgeons will try to avoid any difficulties -the bad patch of scar tissue, irradiated body parts, areas of prior infection. But the mental contortions involved in avoiding “perfect” can result in actual physical contortions that in the end don’t pay off in good enough. I have not been immune to this, and I don’t think any physician or surgeon can honestly say they haven’t experienced some variation on this.

This patient is a younger middle aged man who in his youth experienced a posterior dislocation of his left knee, resulting in an arterial transection. This was repaired with an in-situ graft. Subsequently, he had complications of osteomyelitis and had his knee fused after resection of his joint. He did well with this bypass for several decades, but it finally failed several years ago, and a new one was created (image above).

Rather than directing the graft in line as in the previous one, this was was taken from a medial exposure of the femoral artery and tunneled superficially around the fused knee to coil lateral, ending in the anterior tibial artery.

This graft in turn thrombosed and was lysed by the outside surgeons and underwent serial interventions of proximal and distal stenoses at the anastomoses. The patient, when I met him, was contemplating an above knee amputation as a path to returning to work as a nurse in a rural hospital.

While there should be no reason long bypasses should do any less better than short bypasses, I do have to say these things about this patient’s bypass:

  1. No vein is perfect and the longer your bypass, the more chances you will have that a segment of bad vein will end up in your bypass
  2. Turning flow sharply can cause harsh turbulence. Turbulence can cause transition of potential energy into kinetic energy which acts to damage intimal, resulting in intimal hyperplasia.
  3. Thrombosis is a sure sign that your graft is disadvantaged, and the longer the period of thrombosis, the longer the intima “cooks” in the inflammatory response that accompanies thrombosis, making the vein graft even more vulnerable to subsequent intimal hyperplasia, thrombosis, or stricture.
  4. A high flow, small diameter vein graft entering a larger, disease free bed results in more turbulence but also Bernoulli effects that cause the graft to close intermittently, vibrating like one of those party favors that make a Bronx Cheer (a Heimlich valve). This is the cause I think of the distal long segment narrowing on this graft.

This patient was decided on amputation when our service was consulted, and after reviewing his CTA, I offered balloon angioplasty as his symptoms were primarily of paresthesia and neuropathic pain. I used cutting balloons and got angiographically satisfactory results.


The patient, although he admitted to feeling much better, was sad. He relayed that he had felt this way several times before, only to have his life interrupted by pain and weakness signaling a restenosis.


A direct graft would require about 10 centimeters of vein
It was only a month later when I heard the patient had returned with the same symptoms. He wasn’t angry nor full of any “I told you so” that frankly I was muttering to myself. Reviewing his CTA, he had restenosed to a pinhole. The vein, to use a scientific term, was “no good.”

The other interesting finding was that he had an abundance of very good vein. Following surgical dictum, his original and subsequent surgeons had used his vein from his contralateral saphenous vein. His right leg, fused at the knee, lacked a good calf muscle pump action. While there were no varicose veins, the greater and lesser saphenous veins were large and generous conduits, at least by 3DVR imagery, confirmed on duplex (image below, white arrows).

3DVR showing presence of potential conduit

The extant arteries were smooth and plaque-free. I decided to harvest his lesser saphenous vein and through the same incision expose his distal superficial femoral artery and tibioperoneal trunk. While I anticipated some scarring, I was confident that the sections of artery I wanted to expose were easy to access because of some distance from the fused knee.

On left short saphenous vein was harvested then same exposure used to expose TP Trunk

The picture shows the exposure and reversed vein graft in-situ, using the segment of lesser saphenous vein. As in prior experience in redo surgery, you can never know if a dissection will be easy or hard simply based on fear or concern for breaking something. It’s not until you start bushwacking –carving through scar and dealing with extraneous bleeding will you learn whether it was easy or hard. You can only be certain it was necessary. The only hitch was the femoral artery while well exposed, was buried in scar, and I chose not to get circumferential control as I was fairly deep, and had avid backbleeding from a posteriorly oriented collateral that required a mass clamp of the deep tissues.

Will this work better? Don’t know but it has a good chance, and I think a better chance. It is a large vein oriented in a straight path over a short distance going from good artery to good artery. This is better theoretically than a long meandering bypass with smaller vein. 

VESS Meeting -Vail, CO 2015


VESS is a special medical society whose mission is to foster academic activity and collegiality among young vascular surgeons. Dr. Vikram Kashyap, the outgoing president, gave an engaging talk about changing with the times, referencing three powerhouse rock groups -Rush, The Police, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, three of my favorite groups.

Dr. Max Wohlauer presented our case report on “Osteosarcoma masquerading as an axillary artery pseudoanuerysm.”


The case report ended the Friday morning session and was well received.


Dr. John Weber opened the Friday afternoon session with “Median arcuate ligament syndrome is not a vascular disease.” Shown above prepping for the talk, he is also in the conference dress code of being ready for the slopes.

The talk was also well received and not surprising to most who agreed. In a conversation I had with Dr. Kenneth Cherry, he mentioned that he and Dr. Jeb Hallett had concluded as much decades ago.

The scuttlebutt in the conference was about the NY Times article about the scandalous overuse of femoral stents by some physicians. It is a matter of course that the first line of therapy for mild to moderate claudication is a combination of risk factor modification and exercise therapy -something not mentioned by the writers as something emphasized by Vascular Surgeons who as a rule are against plying stents on asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic patients.

The other thing was the tremendous demand for vascular surgeons, and the success of the 0-5 training programs which represent the future of vascular surgery. Dr. Karl Illig professed as much in the Q&A of a report from Wake Forest. Surprisingly the majority (100%) of 0-5 graduates in 2013 went into academic practice.

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.

AAA Dynamism


September 11, 2008

This patient presented with abdominal pain and found to have a 9.5cm AAA. CT showed a previous stent graft that had slipped its moorings from a very short neck, and had actually flipped down on itself.

The patient was a very sick man with an AICD, end stage CHF, and severe COPD on home O2, and had been turned down for a heart transplant. He relayed that surgeon who had performed the EVAR 6 years before had informed him to follow up with his primary care physician.

This patient was repaired with an AUI-Fem-Fem with plug occlusion of his left iliac. The patient recovered and was POD #6, to his home.


November 13, 2014

This was not the first patient I had like this. Pictured below is another patient with a similar scenario from my personal photo bank. It is important to understand that aneurysms are dynamic, particularly if tortuous. Many of the early generation grafts were placed with great enthusiasm in all sorts of anatomy and they come back to us. Here at the clinic, Dr. Eric Turney and others reported that from 1999 to 2012, 100 patient required EVAR explant. Overall mortality was 17%, with an elective case mortality of 9.9%, non-elective mortality of 37%, and 56% mortality for ruptures (reference). Excluding the 13% of cases that were infected, progression of aneurysm disease was identified as the cause of late (>5yr) failure. It is a major source of open aortic experience for our trainees.

Illustrated below is the mechanism for loss of primary seal when there is a great deal of anterior bowing. Technically, anchoring mechanisms in modern grafts have worked to prevent or delay this effect, but it is something to consider in tortuous anatomy.

Reference: J Vasc Surg. 2014 Apr;59(4):886-93