Unique heart surgery helps woman live again

Published: Monday, Jan. 28 2013 2:26 p.m. MST

Bristol Jackson can't hold back the tears when talking about the open heart surgery she had earlier this month and how it will change her life Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, in Murray.

Alan Neves, Deseret News

MURRAY — For the first time in a long time, Bristol Jackson can hear the healthy sound of blood flowing freely through her heart's superior vena cava vessel.

That's because the old is gone and was replaced with a saphenous vein pulled from her leg during a unique and lifesaving open heart surgery earlier this month. The vein was uniquely rebuilt.

The 39-year-old from Georgia came to Utah because doctors at Intermountain Medical Center have established a track record for a procedure called "spiraling." It involves removing the saphenous vein from the leg, slitting it down the center and then wrapping it around a core.

The process makes the blood conduit much bigger. The rebuilt spirals are sewn together. Once the core is removed and the new vessel is implanted to replace the superior vena cava, it performs ingeniously.

"The saphenous vein is normally anywhere from three to five millimeters, but we can enlarge it to 40 millimeters or more — whatever is needed," said Dr. John Doty at Intermountain Medical Center.

The technique has been perfected over the past 30 years, originally by Doty's father, and now by John Doty and his colleagues. There is little to no clotting because even though the superior vena cava carries a larger flow of blood, it's low pressure, similar to what the saphenous vein was designed to handle in the leg.

"We think we've got the technique down to where it's reproducible,” John Doty said. “Many of these patients now are 30-plus years out from their operation and still doing well. Once implanted and healed in place, we believe it can be in place indefinitely."

He said recovery takes about a week, but the patient feels better instantly because of the better blood flow.

As far as Jackson is concerned, it's a permanent repair.

"I can do things now where I couldn't before,” she said with tears rolling down her checks. “If I want to go somewhere with my grandkids, I can. If I want to go somewhere with my friends, I can."

Her mother, Destiny Rose Holiday, sitting at her side, echoed the emotion. "It's a miracle,” she said. “I believe it's a miracle. This is her second chance for life." 

Despite the increased risk the trip posed for her daughter, Holiday said, "This journey was worth it."

Jackson returned home on Friday, Jan. 25.

“I’m happy,” she said unable to hold back the tears of joy.  “I have my life again.”

E-mail: eyeates@desnews.com

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