Houston VA implants new cardiac device

In early January, Army Veteran Alfred Robertson was feeling dizzy at his home in Houston and called 911.

He was transported to Michael E. DeBakey VA in Houston and diagnosed with complex aortic arch disease. The aortic arch is the top part of the main artery carrying blood away from the heart and the disease results in abnormal blood flow to the head, neck, or arms.

If left untreated, the disease can lead to transient ischemic attacks (TIA), blood pressure changes, breathing problems, dizziness, blurred vision and weakness. It can also lead to other brain and nervous system (neurological) changes, numbness of an arm, reduced pulse and swallowing problems.

“I felt that if I didn’t hit 911, I was going to fall and wait for someone to come find me,” said Robertson, 70.

Device intended to repair or replace damaged or diseased vessels

Staff Surgeon Dr. Alexander Schutz performed surgery on Robertson and implanted a new cardiac device called the Thoraflex Hybrid Frozen Elephant Trunk (pictured above).

Photo of surgery in Houston operating room

Houston VA a high-volume surgical center

The device is intended to repair or replace damaged or diseased vessels of the aortic arch and repair of the descending thoracic aorta with or without involvement of the ascending aorta. Approved by the FDA in 2022, this was the first time the device had been used at Houston VA.

“We’ve been aggressive to use it as soon as it was available to us,” said Schutz, also an assistant professor of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s cutting edge in terms of aortic surgery here in the United States.”

In the VA health care system, Houston VA is a high-volume surgical center for complex aortic arch disease. Schutz said this cardiac device streamlines the surgery.

“Often times in previous generation devices, you would have to do two separate procedures to treat the descending aorta as well as repair the aortic arch. This device allows patients to have all areas of disease treated with one surgery.”

“All praise to my doctor. He knew what he was doing.”

Schutz is the Mechanical and Circulatory Support assistant surgical director and Cardiothoracic Surgery Critical Care co-director at the Michael E. DeBakey VA.

Robertson said he is very appreciative of Schutz and his entire cardiothoracic surgery team. “I want to give all my praise to my doctor,” said Robertson, who was born and raised in Houston. “He was on point, and he knew what he was doing. I truly thank him. He’s a good doctor.”

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