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UC San Diego Surgeons Reach Lung Surgery Milestone

Evening Edition

Above: A woman from Missouri has become the 3,000th patient to get a special type of lifesaving lung surgery at UC San Diego. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg says the operation removes clots that rob patients of their ability to breathe. Warning: the following video contains some graphic images that may not be suitable for all viewers.

Aired 10/15/13 on KPBS News.

For people who suffer from blocked arteries in the lungs, the only viable solution is a unique surgical procedure developed at UC San Diego.

— A woman from Missouri has become the 3,000th patient to get a special type of lifesaving lung surgery at UC San Diego. The operation removes clots that rob patients of their ability to breathe.

The surgery was developed at UC San Diego in the early 1970s.

UCSD’s Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center performs more of the procedures than any other facility in the world.

The surgery is called a pulmonary thromboendartectomy. During the procedure, life-threatening clots and scar tissue are removed from the arteries in the lungs.

Surgeon Michael Madani, co-director of the Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center, said in order to do that, doctors have to put patients into a form of suspended animation.

“Essentially, everything in the patient is flat lined, including brain waves, heart, and there is no blood flow anywhere in the body," Madani said.

The surgery takes about 10 hours to complete.

Madani said it’s the best way to help patients who suffer from what’s called pulmonary hypertension. About 25,000 Americans have this condition.

“This operation could be potentially curative," Madani said. "And patients can go back, enjoy almost a normal lifestyle to the point that they were before they got the blood clots.”

Susan Geertsen is the 3,000th patient to go through the surgery at UC San Diego. She had it last week, and she’s already able to cut way down on bottled oxygen.

The 55-year-old Geertsen admits she was worried about going under the knife.

“It was pretty scary," she said. "But I was pretty sure I’d survive, of course. And I also knew that my quality of life was so bad, that I wanted to look forward to a better future.”

When she came to the hospital, Geertsen could hardly breathe.

And now?

“I think I’ve got a few years ahead of me, quite a few," Geertsen said, smiling.

Geertsen is scheduled to go home this week. Doctors say she should be able to breathe on her own without bottled oxygen in a few weeks.

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