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Cutting Edge Medicine Part 3

By: Lisa Blackwell Email
By: Lisa Blackwell Email

Kidney dialysis is a life-saving procedure for patients whose kidneys don't function properly.

For some medical complications make it difficult to get the life-saving treatment they need. Dialysis is a procedure for cleansing the blood when a person's kidneys won't do it for them.

Normally when a person goes for treatment, health professionals tap into the veins to process the blood.

But some people's veins are in such bad shape...doctors need direct access to an artery instead.

Now a local doctor is implanting a special device to bridge that gap in part 3 of our special series "Cutting Edge Medicine."

Marcia Howe, Dialysis Patient, says, “something happened, my body just shut down, they don’t' know what it was but everything came back but my kidneys.”

Marcia Howe has been through a lot. In the past she's battled breast cancer and now she's fighting kidney failure. She's been on dialysis for 3 years and had a catheter. Doctors couldn't tap into her veins for outflow purposes because they are scarred, narrowed and occluded.

Jeffery Whitehurst, M.D., Surgeon, says, “If we were to hook up a regular graft in her arm to a vein she would have had severe swelling in her right arm her right arm would get about 3 times as big as her left arm and she would have a lot of pain and problems from that.”

Doctor Whitehurst implanted a long term graft, a hero vascular access device, which provides direct access to her arteries.

“Instead of hooking up to a vein in the arm we have a special stent graph that goes in under the large vein under the collarbone and the large vein in the neck and it goes right down into the right atrium of the heart,” says Whitehurst.

The Hero is made of a soft material; Gortex. The patient's skin forms around the graph which allows doctors to insert needles and perform dialysis.

“With a catheter you have to worry about it getting wet or coming out this I don't have to worry about I can forget about dialysis I can forget about everything because it's all underneath my skin,” says Howe.

We hope it will last five or ten years and if she could be evaluated for a kidney transplant in that time and she gets a kidney transplant then she won't need this anymore and it could be a bridge to transplantation sometimes, says Whitehurst.

And while she waits the Hero is helping Marcia look forward to the good things in life like spending time with her grandkids.

Doctor Whitehurst is the only doctor in this area performing this procedure. He says he hopes someday they can figure out a way to prevent scarring in the veins.

Nationwide, more than 354-thousand people are receiving dialysis treatments at least three times per week; over 6-thousand of them are in Alabama.


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