Never say never

fem-at-bypass.jpgIf you work long enough, you will not only see everything, but you may end up doing something that you say you would never do. You will be confronted with a scenario that would test not just your skills but also your boundaries. The adage, never say never is a warning that all of us may face a choice -to remain rigidly consistent with some earlier proclamation or to excuse a little hypocrisy for the sake of the patient.

At one point in recent years, I saw a patient who had an axillary artery to anterior tibial artery bypass with PTFE (figure above). That was a kind of marvel to me, but my initial response was a bit of a sneer.

“Who does this?” I thought.

Giving it some thought, the rationale could have been to spare the patient from a hip disarticulation as the patient had had failed revascularizations and was occluded from the infrarenal aorta to the anterior tibial artery on that side. If you see such a thing, it sparks wonder as it feels both wrong and splendid at the same time because some surgeon had the audacity to pull it off. By the time I saw it, the patient had avulsed the proximal anastomosis, infarcted their leg to their thigh, and was headed for a hip disarticulation, four years after the creation of the bypass. Four years of patency!

It was no wonder I remembered this case when this middle aged man presented to our clinic with a gangrenous right third toe. He had diabetes, hypertension, CAD with prior PTCA, prior acute mesenteric ischemia with bowel resection with an SMA stent, CHF with moderately reduced EF, CKD, and aortoiliac occlusive disease treated in past with aorto-bi-iliac bypass, left to right fem-fem bypass complicated by graft infection requiring resection of the fem-fem bypass, with subsequent development of rest pain on left leg and gangrene on right leg. He had been told at his home institution that he required eventual bilateral hip disarticulations. At the time of consultation, he was minimally ambulatory, limited by severe pain. He had been this way for over a year.

On examination, he had heavy scarring in both groins from prior open incisions healed by secondary intention, a midline laparotomy incision. He had weak bilateral axillary and brachial artery pulses. He had no pulses in either leg. The right foot had gangrene of the distal phalanx of the third toe. The both feet were anemic and painful -the left foot had more dependent rubor. Pulse volume recordings were flat in both legs. TCPO2 was in the 20-40mmHg range at the thighs bilaterally suggesting reduced potential for healing an above knee amputation. Vein mapping showed no suitable saphenous vein in either leg. CTA (figure below) showed both external iliac arteries to be occluded or absent and the common femoral arteries to be occluded or missing bilaterally.

AngioRunOff 1.0 B20f

The left femoral bifurcation was preserved and the left SFA was patent into small underfilled tibial vessels. On the right, there was an isolated segment of profunda femoral artery that reconstituted from pelvic collaterals. The right below knee popliteal artery reconstituted and had underfilled but patent three vessel runoff (figure below).

AngioRunOff 1.0 B20f (4)
posterior view of right popliteal reconstitution

The patient was admitted for workup and treatment. Heparin drip was started. In the setting of rest pain, I find that heparin drip improves circulation and symptoms even though it shouldn’t. I don’t have a great explanation for this, but it does, and I would welcome comments. To better assess how much operation the patient could tolerate, a cardiac risk assessment was performed. He was deemed a moderate to severely elevated risk due to his EF of 35% but had a normal nuclear stress test.

The options I presented to the patient were
1. Hip disarticulations
2. Bilateral above knee amputations with a wait and see approach to hip disrticulation
3. Sympathectomy
4. Axillo-profunda or popliteal bypass on right and Axillo femoral bypass on left
5. Ilio-right popliteal and left femoral bypass.
6. Thoracic or supraceliac aorta to right profunda and left femoral bypass

Hip disarticulation is the bogeyman of leg amputations done for peripheral vascular disease. When done for trauma or cancer in young people, the ability to rehab and walk again is excellent. When done for tissue loss in elderly, non-ambulatory patients, the reported mortality of the operation rises to above 50%. It is usually posed as a lead in to comfort measures. The above knee amputations were not likely to heal despite the neither here nor there findings of the TCPO2 which is only good when the results or normal or dismally low. Sympathectomy is an option for those without options, but this patient still had options, I felt.

Any revascularization relies on the choice of inflow, outlow, and conduit. In endovascular revascularizations, the conduit is the previously occluded vessels, but in this instance, because of the infected grafts, there was neither continuity, nor a good option even if there was as the common femoral artery is a terrible recipient of endovascular therapy. The options then devolve to choosing an inflow. The axillary arteries are technically easiest to access and manage and form the basis of treatment of high risk patients requiring limb salvage who have no endovascular options. The axillofemoral bypass is given a bad reputation of having a poor patency, but the key is the quality of the vessels and the number of potential tension, compression, and kink points. I think the reason why the axillary to anterior tibial bypass lasted for four years in the first patient had to do with his immobility, and the pristine nature of the anterior tibial artery -the only patent vessel below his umbilicus. Here to, the inflow disease appears to have spared his right popliteal artery and his left superficial femoral artery.

The only compromise with an axillary artery inflow is the amount of potential flow. In a patient with a 6-7mm axillary artery, the amount of flow going to both an arm and a leg, and a lower torso, would greatly exceed the flow capacity of that vessel. The infrarenal aorta on this man is graft and is relatively inaccessible due to the prior laparotomy for acute mesenteric ischemia, signalling the high likelihood of adhesions. The supraceliac aorta is an excellent inflow source and I have had good results dissecting it out laparoscopically as it is often deep and narrow an exposure to try to dissect open -While the retroperitoneal tunneling can be tricky, it is not insurmountable and good bypasses can result (link).

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My eye focused on the left iliac graft which perfused the internal iliac artery on that side. The graft was generous, and likely a dilated 8mm graft, and could be exposed via a left lower quadrant retroperitoneal exposure (the transplant exposure). This would allow me to to then tunnel to avoid the terribly scarred groins. On the right side, the obdurator canal could be traversed into the postioer compartment of the thigh -a graft could be sent to the below knee popliteal artery with a side graft to the tiny profunda femoral artery. On the left, the graft could be tunneled laterally near the insertion of the sartorius muscle and onto the superficial femoral artery. All of the incisions would be made in virgin skin, the only redo dissection being digging out the left iliac graft while avoiding injury to the ureter.

So I proposed a ilio-popliteal bypass. Not quite an axillo-tibial bypass, but almost there. There was some karmic balance being restored by my taking decision. It would be with PTFE all around. I quoted a 5-15% risk of major morbidity and mortality, lifelong anticoagulation, and right third toe amputation. The patient agreed.

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sketch of iliopopliteal and iliofemoral bypassrs

The operation was done in a hybrid suite, as should all limb salvage cases. The retroperitoneal dissection was challenging because of the heavy scar tissue around the well incorporated iliac bypass, but with patience, a clampable 3cm segment was achieved. I am a big fan of Wylie hypogastric clamps because they stay out of the way when placed in a tight narrow spot, and for that same reason, I prefer the Cherry supraceliac aortic clamp. They were designed by my mentor, Ken Cherry, and his mentor, Jack Wylie for this kind of operation. A few venous bleeders were easily handled with my ring compressors (below), and I hope to continue this chain of innovation, but I digress.

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a Park clamp

The bladder was dissected off the pubis to allow the graft to be tunneled to the right pelvis. A counter incision in the right lower quadrant abdomen and a mid thigh incision mobilizins the anterior compartment muscles to the posterior compartment allowed me to tunnel across the obturator foramen. The obdurator vessels need to be avoided or there will be bleeding. this mid thigh incision allowed exposure of the profunda femoral artery more proximally and allowe the graft to be tunneled anatomically to the below knee popliteal artery for anastomosis. A jump graft was taken off this graft on the thigh to the profunda femoral artery which was small and diseased -no more than 2mm in size. An axillary bypass to this profunda would be doomed to the compromised patency rate published for ax-fem bypasses giving them a bad name. The left superficial femoral artery was exposed and provided outflow to the left iliofemoral bypass which was tunneled far laterally under the inguinal ligament to avoid the scar tissue where the common femoral artery was.

There was immediately multiphasic signal in both feet on release of clamps. After closure of all the incisions and dressings, the right middle toe was amputated.

The patient recently came back for an 8 month followup. His grafts remained patent and he was walking without limitations. Given the high quality of the inflow (large iliac graft), and the amount of decent outflow -the right popliteal and profunda, the left superficial femoral and retrograde to the profunda, gives the patients some surety of longevity for his grafts. These grafts will need lifelong surveillance.

I have since opened my mind a bit about that axillary artery to anterior tibial artery bypass. When given the choice between comfort measures for an otherwise nonambulatory but alert patient and hip disarticulation with its attendant high risk, a bypass from a large axillary artery to a large, relatively disease free anterior tibial artery is not the worst thing that could happen. For that patient, it gave them 4 more years with their family, which in any measure, is priceless. To that patient’s family, that surgeon was a savior.

Exovascularist’s Dilemma: Where Is Our LIMA to LAD

During our daily morning huddles, peopled by cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, one thing impresses me more than anything else. The assembled interventional cardiologists, world class and renown, they who can place a stent in any part of the body, will defer to the unassailable superiority of the LIMA to LAD bypass over any existing intervention. I am always a little sad that the analog for this, the vein bypass in the leg does not get the same love. The open surgical bypass of the leg is the great straw man at international symposia. It is fast becoming a diminishing and curious habit of a fading generation.

The acknowledged superior hemodynamics and patency of the bypass is diminished in the literature by pooling patency loss with other factors such as amputation, heart attacks, and death. Some vascular surgeons dogmatically cling to habits learned in training that favor complications, making themselves their own worst enemies both in the literature and in the marketplace. These bad habits involve long incision length, closure techniques that do not anticipate edema, and wound orientation that makes failure more likely.

Operations require far more support and resources to succeed than do interventions that soon go home. Brilliant operations alone will not heal the patient. It is pathways and postoperative care infrastructure and staff that prevent these secondary complications -the very complications that keep the leg vein bypass from being as respected, if not loved, as the LIMA to LAD.

The postoperative care of these patients devolves to management of leg edema. No medical or nursing school adequately teaches the basic science nor management of edema, which is the most common vascular condition

The incisions are too long in the classic vein bypass. When you create and then close an incision, the inflammation drives the accumulation of fluid in the extracellular space – creating edema. This postoperative edema, poorly managed, results in complications that leave the patient hobbled with time lost to healing wound complications, pain, and excess limb weight. Additionally, vein bypasses usually involve groin exposure and the delicate lymphatics that coalesce there are perturbed or destroyed during exposure. Postop, this damage and the inflammation rapidly overcomes the capacity of a lymphatic system. The traditional vein harvest also involves cutting through deep layers of fat. The fat is typically closed by broad sutures that create areas of fat necrosis -potential fodder for bacteria. The best ways the complications of long and deep incisions is to avoid them altogether. The calculus of the operative moment – “I must see the vein,” must include the vision of a patient losing months to wound therapies to heal a gaping, necrotic, infected wound. I recommend skip incisions or adopting in-situ bypass technique with endovascular management of fistulae. Or corral your cardiac PA to harvest the vein segment in the thigh after mobilizing the vein in the leg with the endoscope.

The incisions are often closed with Nylon sutures and skin clips which can become potential foci of infection. With edema, they create zones of ischemia around them, killing skin and creating entry points for skin flora as the skin expands under an unyielding clip or suture. Placed under a pannus, these sutures or clips fester in an anaerobic environment. Closure should adhere to anatomy. The body relies on connective tissue planes to keep itself together. In the groin, these are Scarpa’s layer and the dermis. They should be closed with absorbable monofilament in a buried interrupted fashion at the dermis with a final running subcuticular layer of 4-0 absorbable monofilament. Steristrips or glue at the skin finishes the job. If you use sutures, particularly at the distal anastomotic site, take care to realize that you have about 12 hours before the skin dies in the best of circumstances, and less with microangiopathy of diabetes and ESRD. Squeezing out the edema before closure with a sterile Esmarch or short counterincisions or even a large one to allow for tension free closure over an anastomosis will prevent wound complications over your graft.

The classic longitudinal groin incisions that cut across the inguinal crease divides a tension point -that crease is like a cord that supports the pannus that is slung over it and when divided and then closed with a stitch, that stitch then bears the weight of that pannus every time the patient sits up or stands. If you are observant, wound necrosis typically starts at the groin crease under a surgical clip or suture. Incisions in the groin should be obqlique and parallel to this crease, or if you can, even inside this crease. When these wounds are closed, the natural lines of tension are in line with the incision rather than orthogonal to it. The natural forces keep the wound shut.

This is only the first step. The next is keeping the wound clean and dry for at least 5 days. At the Mayo Clinic, where I trained, the nurses up on 5 Mary Brigh were trained to blow dry the groin wounds every few hours on cool setting and redressing the wound with dry gauze. You can get something close to it by ensuring the wounds painted with betadine, allowed to air dry, and dressed with dry gauze. If there is a constant leak of fluid, you have a serious problem as there is too much edema in the leg, or the wound isn’t closed, or there is a lymph leak. It needs to be actively dried out or you get a wet, macerated, infected wound like a grenade went off in the groin.

They don’t teach compression wrap techniques in medical or nursing school

The simplest thing to avoid lymph leaks is to not make them. Cutting near lymph nodes is hazardous, and once below Scarpa’s you have to orient your dissection directly over the femoral artery. Stray horizontally and you will undoubtedly cut one of the 4 to 10 invisible lymph channels.

They are invisible but detectable -after you break them, you will see a constant wetness in the wound. Think about injecting a cc or two of Lymphazurin (Isosulfan Blue, for those not allergic to Sulfa) into the intertriginous space on the same foot and you will see the lymph channel in bright blue, or stare carefully at the likely spots for a lymph leak and clip it, burn it, Ligasure or Harmonic scalpel it.

Lymph leak identified from saphenectomy incision (for CABG)

So how did we get to a rather dry discussion about edema? Wound complications are tremendously debilitating and offset any benefit from vein bypass operations. These long incisions become terrible big wounds if not prevented. It takes the concerted effort of a team and particularly nursing in actively managing edema. And at the end, the patient too must be included in this discussion. For the vein bypass of the leg to get the same respect and love as the LIMA to LAD bypass, surgical wound complications must become never events.

Water goes downhill

The Ilio-femoral-popliteal remote endarterectomy -The Concept Behind Extended Remote Endarterectomy is Moving Inflow from the Groin to the Knee

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Why perform such an extensive endarterectomy when just a few stents will do? This is a valid question, given the relative safety of interventions and the durability of bypasses. There are three reasons why ilio-femoral-popliteal endarterectomy works well in my practice.

  1. Minimally invasive
  2. Restore elasticity and collaterals
  3. Move the inflow point from the groin to the knee

The procedure is minimally invasive. Take for example this patient whose plaque is shown above. He had a common femoral occlusion for which a common femoral endarterectomy was aborted when the prior surgeon ran into excessive bleeding. Workup for coagulopathy was negative and the patient came to me with rest pain. Pedal level pulses were not palpable, and the signals were barely there.

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CTA showed that he had a CFA occlusion as well as SFA occlusion.

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Because the common femoral plaque is contiguous with the external iliac plaque, it is often simpler to complete a remote endarterectomy over wire up to the external iliac origin than to try to get a satisfactory end point at the inguinal ligament -I do not like stenting across the ligament into the patch which is the usual bailout if the end point causes a stenosis. It is far simpler to apply a stent at the external iliac origin.

The popliteal end point was chosen where the visible plaque was no longer apparent in the patent artery. The goal is to cut across thin intima, and frequently no distal stent is required because a secure end point is achieved much like the “feathered endpoint” seen in carotid endarterectomies.

Termini

distal end point

My intention was to endarterectomize the atherosclerotic plaque from the external iliac origin to popliteal artery via the groin incision marked in orange.

3DVR allows for planning the operation in great detail
3DVR allows for planning the operation in great detail

The video shows the setup and motion in dissecting the plaque.

The plaque came out easily (first image, top).The proximal and distal end points required stents.

Before and after
Before and after

The patient regained palpable dorsalis pedis and posterior tibial artery pulses. Total OR time was less than 2 hours. An ilioinguinal field block allowed for good pain control and the patient was discharged the next morning, having to heal only a 10cm wound. There is no good endovascular option for common femoral disease, and while stenting the whole SFA can be done, on more than a few occasions I have had to treat occluded “full metal jacket” SFA stents, usually by removing them. EndoRE has been shown to be superior to PTFE and almost as good as vein in the REVAS Trial when compared to fem-AK POP bypass. Going home the next day after such an extensive revascularization is not a stunt -it’s the direct result of limiting the incision and blood loss and OR time.

2. Restore Elasticity and Collaterals -Arterial Restoration

One of the components of arterial flow that is lost with atherosclerotic disease is arterial elasticity. That is the stretchiness of the artery in response to pressure. Elastic distension and recoil account for significant portions of forward flow during diastole which is lost with atherosclerotic plaque. As plaque builds up, and the artery becomes stiffer. The artery that goes through remote endarterectomy regains this elasticity. Ultrastructure from a recanalized external iliac artery sampled from a punch arteriotomy for a cross ilio-femoral bypass showed that three months after endarterectomy, the external iliac artery was ultrastructurally normal per pathology report.

Also, collaterals that were previously occluded are seen to be restored to patency. This has an important impact on patency and any future failures. The endarterectomized arteries fail due to the presence of isolated, random fragments of medial smooth muscle which cause focal TASC A restenoses. These are easily amenable to balloon angioplasty. If the revascularization fails, there is no catastrophic thromboembolism that is typical of PTFE thromboses -rather the collaterals keep segments open and it is straightforward to thrombectomize or lyse the artery and intervene as necessary.

3. Moving the inflow point from groin to the knee.

This is an important concept. One of the principles of inflow restoration is delivering large flow and pressure directly from the aortic source to the leg. Recanalizing from the external iliac to the below knee popliteal artery creates this situation below the knee, allowing for very short bypasses to be performed from the popltieal artery to tibial targets -a very useful circumstance when vein is limited. This next patient is a presented with gangrene of his fifth toe after esophagectomy for cancer, and had severe diabetes.

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He had useful saphenous vein in his thigh only, some of it having been harvested in the proximal thigh for a common femoral endarterectomy. CTA showed a dilated common femoral and profunda femoral artery, severely calcified SFA and popliteal artery which were occluded, and only a patent peroneal artery as runoff.

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The plan was to harvest the short segment of vein then through the same incisions, below the knee and in the mid thigh, expose the below knee popliteal artery and tibial origins, and the mid SFA. I intended to avoid the groin. The plaque was removed from the tibioperoneal trunk to the SFA origin, and the origin was stented.

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This reestablished a normal inflow at the level of the below knee popliteal artery. I also did an eversion endarterectomy of the anterior tibial artery which resulted in significant back bleeding -a good sign. A short bypass was performed from the below knee popliteal artery to the peroneal artery.

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This resulted in a palpable dorsalis pedis artery pulse and excellent peroneal and posterior tibial artery signal.

completion

The ABI improved and the waveforms predicted healing for his 5th ray amp.

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This last case illustrates the point that once the conceptual inflow point is moved to the below knee popliteal artery, bypasses can become short, and durable tibial revascularizations become feasible. By avoiding a redo groin, avoiding multisegment arm vein bypass, and keeping the procedure time under 5 hours, the operation remains less invasive.