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A Gentler Way of Doing Brain Surgery

Loyola Neurosurgeon Repairs Life-threatening Aneurysm with Catheter Rather than Open Surgery

MAYWOOD, Ill. -- Carolyn Davis checked into Loyola University Medical Center with a life-threatening brain aneurysm that caused the worst headache in her life.

Traditional surgery to repair such a defect is highly invasive. It involves opening the skull, retracting the brain and placing a clip to seal off the ruptured aneurysm. Recovery takes months, and patients can suffer cognitive deficits.

But Loyola neurosurgeon William W. Ashley, Jr., MD, PhD, was able to repair Davis' aneurysm without cutting into her skull. He instead repaired the defect with a catheter that he threaded through her blood vessels up to her brain.

Davis went home with only a puncture wound where the catheter had been inserted. She has fully recovered from an aneurysm that, if left untreated, could have been fatal.

"I'm very thankful for Dr. Ashley," she said.

An aneurysm is a bulge in a blood vessel. As the bulge expands, the artery wall thins. Eventually, it can leak or burst, causing damage similar to a stroke.

About 6 million Americans -- 1 in 50 people -- have brain aneurysms that potentially could rupture. Each year, aneurysms burst in about 25,000 people, and most die or suffer permanent disabilities, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.

Davis' aneurysm leaked and later ruptured, causing an excruciating headache and subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding in the area between the brain and the thin tissues that cover the brain.) "I had never felt anything like that before," Davis, 55, said. "I knew something bad was going on in my head."

Left untreated, the aneurysm almost certainly would have ruptured again, and this time, it could have been fatal or caused severe brain damage.

Davis, who lives in Chicago, went to the emergency room of a community hospital, which transferred her to Loyola.

Ashley used a less-invasive endovascular technique to repair her aneurysm. He inserted a catheter (thin tube) in an artery in the groin and guided it up past the heart and through the carotid artery into the brain. Ashley then passed tiny coils of platinum wire through the catheter and released them into the bulging aneurysm. The bulge filled with coils, causing the blood to clot. This effectively sealed off the aneurysm.

"It likely is permanently fixed," Ashley said.

Ashley is among a new generation of neurosurgeons who are using this less-invasive technique to repair aneurysms and other vascular problems in the brain. He also is trained in traditional open brain surgery. With his dual training, Ashley can offer patients the safest and most effective treatment options for complex neurovascular disease.

Ashley is an assistant professor in the Departments of Neurological Surgery and Radiology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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Jim Ritter
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Anne Dillon
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