Wisc. woman thankful for rare, life-saving surgery

March 7, 2008 3:47:12 PM PST
A Wisconsin woman is talking about rare surgery that saved her life. Doctors at University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center used a laser to treat her brain aneurysm.

The lucky patient is Nancy Bell from Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. She was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm four years ago. Doctors tried to seal it three times but were unsuccessful. It continued to grow. If it ruptured, she would likely die. Fortunately for her, the fourth time's a charm. Now, at 63 years old, she says her life is just beginning.

Bell has a lot to smile about. The scar on the left side of her head is going to heal -- and more importantly, the aneurysm in her brain is no longer a threat to her life.

Thanks to a skilled surgeon armed with a revolutionary new laser, today Nancy Bell is:

"Doing well, I'm tired, but that will come along as weeks go by. Right now I'm doing great," Bell said.

For a typical bypass, surgeons have to clamp off either side of the blood vessel that contains the aneurysm. That cuts off blood supply to the brain and can cause a stroke. But, with this new technology, no clamping is necessary. Surgeons can use a laser to do the bypass.

"Luckily, four years later, here I am with the big guy," said Bell.

The big guy is Dr. Fady Charbel, a neurosurgeon at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"So the surgery is not new, it's the ability to do it using this laser that make it safer," said Charbel.

Dr. Charbel says he is confident this procedure will soon become mainstream, and help thousands of brain aneurysm patients.

"So the beauty of this is we're able to perform the bypass, the same surgery we normally do, except there is no interruption of blood flow to the brain," Charbel said.

"What Dr. Charbel did saved her life," said Dennis Bell, Nancy's husband.

Nancy's husband Dennis fought back tears as he expressed his thanks.

"It was a miracle that she pulled through," Dennis said. "I'm very thankful to this man and his whole staff...What this man did, and he is going to do, is going to be great for everybody."

Hundreds of these surgeries have been done in Europe, but only a handful in the United States. Because this is still an experimental procedure, it took more than a year for the FDA to even approve it. But Dr. Charbel says, once the procedure becomes mainstream, more than 1,000 patients in the US will benefit from it every year.


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