Pelican Rapids man back on the family farm after pioneering surgery at Sanford

FARGO - Donald L.

Dr. Corey Teigen and Donald Johnson
Dr. Corey Teigen talks with Donald Johnson Thursday, March 27, 2014, during a checkup visit two weeks after minimally evasive repair of an aortic abdominal aneurysm. Dr. Teigen did the first fenestrated endograft for repair of AAA in the region on March 18, 2014, at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. An image of the stent is displayed on the laptop computer between the two of them. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO - Donald L. Johnson's medical odyssey began when he had a heart attack a little more than a year ago.

Afterward, when a surgeon was inserting a stent in his heart, he found another cardiac artery was partly plugged.

Then, when more comprehensive imaging studies were performed in January, doctors discovered yet another problem: a bulge in an artery deep in his abdomen.

The aneurysm, about the size of a baseball, would have required major surgery - an incision the length of his abdomen, and removal of his intestines to make room for repair of the bulging artery.

Given Johnson's age - he's now 83 - he was told he might not survive such demanding surgery. Left unrepaired, however, the aneurysm was a lethal ticking time bomb waiting to burst.


Enter Dr. Corey Teigen, an interventional radiologist at Sanford Health, and a specialist in minimally invasive procedures on blood vessels as an alternative to conventional surgery.

Johnson's case highlighted the announcement of the establishment of the Sanford Vascular Center, which combines vascular surgery with interventional radiology.

Teigen performed a procedure last month on Johnson called a fenestrated endograft to repair the aortic abdominal aneurysm, the region's first, according to Sanford.

Before inserting the stent in Johnson's bulging artery, Teigen took myriad measurements in three dimensions of the branched vessel; the aneurysm was near arteries supplying blood to the kidneys.

He sent the specifications to Australia, where a custom, 3-D stent was fabricated from Dacron cloth, reinforced with wire. On March 18, two months after the aneurysm was discovered, the stent was placed in Johnson's abdominal aorta at a spot located underneath his belly button.

"Twenty years ago, I'd have been dead - 10 years ago, maybe," Johnson said recently, when he returned for a post-procedure checkup. "Because it was to the point it could have burst anytime."

Johnson was in the procedure room for less than five hours, and he believes the actual procedure took an hour and a half. He stayed in the hospital overnight, then went home the next day, and was walking right away.

Had the aneurysm burst, Johnson was told he would have bled to death internally in less than three minutes.


Before it showed up on a scan, Johnson had no telltale symptoms warning of the life-threatening aneurysm in his belly. "I've always felt good," the retired dairy farmer from rural Pelican Rapids, Minn., said.

Because of advances in medical imaging, more and more people are diagnosed with aortic aneurysms, Teigen said. Not so long ago, the first clue was when the patient abruptly died.

"Once we find them, then we can fix them," he said. "It's more art than science," Teigen added, referring to the uniqueness of each case.

"Through the center, we can provide these advanced treatments because we have an integrated, multidisciplinary team that can address the many issues related to vascular insufficiency, all in one location," said Dr. Todd Reil, a vascular surgeon and center co-director, along with Teigen.

Meanwhile, Johnson is back at the family farm, where he helps his sons, who now run the operation.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

Related Topics: HEALTH
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