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Northwestern Memorial Hospital Surgeon First in Illinois to Repair Damaged Aorta with “Frozen Elephant Trunk” Graft

Surgery part of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute’s Clinical Trials Unit

CHICAGO – Phillip Lonergan has hiked the Himalayas, the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Rockies, but an aortic aneurysm — a potentially deadly bulge in the largest artery in the body — threatened to be the toughest challenge of his life.
Now, the Chicago-based graphic designer is on his way to exploring new trails after a first-in-Illinois procedure where Northwestern Medicine cardiac surgeon S. Chris Malaisrie, MD repaired and stabilized his damaged aorta with an investigational device known as a “frozen elephant trunk” graft because of its shape and stiff material.
The Thoraflex™ Hybrid Device is used to repair an aorta damaged from either an aortic aneurysm, or a bulge or ballooning in the aorta’s wall, or dissection, which is a tear in the aorta’s wall. The aorta runs from the heart through the chest and abdomen, carrying oxygen-rich blood to the body.
The frozen elephant trunk graft is designed to repair the damage in one surgery when previously, surgeons required two separate procedures to make the complicated repair.
“This device makes the procedure easier for the patient and reduces the amount of time the patient is on the heart-lung machine during surgery,” said Dr. Malaisrie, who is co-director of Northwestern Medicine’s Thoracic Aortic Surgery Program and an associate professor of surgery-cardiac surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s a potential breakthrough in the surgical treatment of arterial disease, and we are pleased to be part of this clinical trial investigating its efficacy.”
Lonergan’s aortic bulge happened in 2010, and was repaired successfully at the time at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. However, the repair wasn’t permanent and in 2016 Dr. Malaisrie told him he qualified for a clinical trial investigating the frozen elephant trunk device.
Lonergan said he always knew he would need additional surgery on the aorta, and was pleased there was an investigational option.
“I’ve known this was coming for six years,” he said. “Everybody here at Northwestern Memorial Hospital has been great, from the surgeon and probably dozens of other staff who saved my life in 2010 to Dr. Malaisrie, who extended it and spared me an additional surgery. I looked at this clinical trial as my chance to give back to medicine.”
“This has helped me get back on my feet,” he added. “Now, I want to see more of the United States, and maybe travel to the Middle East.”
The Thoraflex™ Hybrid IDE study will enroll as many as 80 participants in 14 centers in the United States. Northwestern Medicine hopes to enroll 10 individuals. Dr. Malaisrie has performed nine surgeries as part of the trial.
The Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is part of the Northwestern Medicine health system, with multiple sites of care in Chicago and the region. Northwestern Memorial Hospital currently is ranked first in in the United States for heart failure survival, second in the United States for the survival of stroke and in the top 10 for the survival of heart attack, the three most dire cardiovascular health threats. Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s heart and heart surgery program is ranked seventh nationally and first in Chicago, Illinois and the surrounding states by U.S. News & World Report. For more information or to make an appointment with a cardiovascular specialist, visit heart.nm.org.