UofL Health’s ‘first in Kentucky’ vascular surgery helps saves woman’s life

Doctors from UofL Health implanted a GORE TAG Thoracic Branch Endoprosthesis into a patient's aorta, restoring her normal blood flow.
Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 6:56 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Wearing a big smile, Rena Cole poses for a picture.

She’s in a conference room on Floor 15 of UofL Health’s Heart Hospital, standing alongside her husband Jim Cole, and the three men who helped save her life.

“She could barely talk,” Dr. Abindra Sigdel said. “[Her husband] spoke for her, because she was so sick, laying in the bed, and trouble breathing. So she barely spoke.”

Sigdel is referring to when he first met Cole, roughly 30 days ago. She was a patient at UofL Hospital, wearing tubes and wires and preparing for her second vascular surgery in seven years.

“I thought, here we go again,” Cole said. “What are we going to do? Am I going to have to have open heart surgery again? I thought, I done been through it one time. I was like, am I going to have to have this done again?”

Cole’s first surgery was to repair an aortic dissection and required open-heart surgery.

She made a full recovery, until Aug. 19, when she developed sharp chest pains during work.

“It was like severe pressure on your chest,” Cole said. “It’s so much different than, like I said, acid reflux going on. It’s, to me, someone took a knife and stabbed it into your chest.”

She called 911 and went straight to the hospital.

Doctors told her the stent from her first surgery was leaking blood and needed to be sealed.

The doctors at UofL Health’s Heart Hospital came up with a plan to treat her condition, using a procedure that had - at the time - only been used once before in Kentucky.

“Dr. Sigdel came in and started telling us about this new procedure they have, which okay sounds good,” Jim Cole said. “When you say this is new, how new is this? And he said, ‘we’ve done it one time and it was a complete success.’ And it took effort not to pass out at that point.”

Vascular surgeons drained liters of blood from Cole’s lung, then implanted a GORE TAG Thoracic Branch Endoprosthesis, a framework of stent grafts, to patch the leak in her aorta.

The procedure involved two small cuts, one in the groin and one in the arm, to insert the grafts and restore the correct flow of blood. The previous surgery required a major incision in the patient’s neck and came with several major risks.

“We are preventing major injuries to nerves that can cause significant damages for the patient’s voice, for the patient’s breathing, for the patient’s diaphragm,” Chief Vascular Surgeon Dr. Amit Dwivedi said. “So those are the things we are avoiding by doing this.”

Cole’s surgery was a success and she had made steady progress since her release from the hospital.

Friday, she thanked the doctors for their work and reflected on her experience as a part of the groundbreaking procedure.

“I just felt like I was in good hands the whole time,” Cole told the doctors. “That just, I feel like y’all saved my life. You did.”