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The Aortic Center: Meeting the Challenge of a Life-or-Death Diagnosis

BY SCOTT L. STEVENS, MD - You could fill a third of Neyland Stadium with the people whose lives are lost to aortic emergencies every year. Aortic emergencies are prevalent in East Tennessee, and The University of Tennessee Medical Center has responded to this community need.

The Aortic Center was developed to address the extremely high mortality rate among patients experiencing an aortic emergency. Armed with skills, data and technology, the Aortic Center has instituted a comprehensive program that expedites diagnosis and streamlines care coordination.

Using many of the resources available at our Level I Trauma Center, the Aortic Center is uniquely qualified to tackle the challenge of this demanding diagnosis. In-house surgeons, anesthesiologists and a fully staffed operating room stand ready to respond around the clock. Cardiac and vascular surgeons use groundbreaking technology to repair the damage. When an aortic emergency is occurring, time is critical. Each minute of delay in diagnosis and treatment dramatically decreases the survival rate for these patients.

A car crash in rural East Tennessee that leaves an injured teenager with a torn aorta triggers the acute aorta protocol. With the first phone call to LIFESTAR, a cascade of responders is activated. Paramedics and EMTs initiate medical care, and a LIFESTAR transport is deployed to the scene. At the hospital, surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, operating room, laboratory and radiology staff prepare for the patient's arrival. Electronic images are transferred and quickly analyzed for preoperative planning. The patient placement center and intensive care unit is notified so that transfer along the recovery path will be seamless. Chaplains and caseworkers are alerted to offer help and support to the families and loved ones faced with this difficult crisis.

The keys to the success of the aortic program include provider and staff education, communication, training and rehearsal for all those involved in the acute aorta protocol. Outcomes analysis is regularly performed and utilized to improve our care delivery. From diagnosis to treatment, speed, accuracy and coordination are critical. The University of Tennessee Medical Center's Aortic Center demonstrates our commitment to serving the East Tennessee community.

Scott L. Stevens, MD is a Professor of the UTGSM's Department of Surgery, Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery.

Posted December 10, 2013

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