The aorta is the body’s main blood vessel (artery), and it carries blood from the heart to our vital organs. Thanks to the Vassar Aorta Program, if you have aortic disease, you have access to the most advanced aortic valve surgery, technologies, treatments and research to improve your quality of life.
If the ascending aorta enlarges (or dilates) in size, usually from genetic factors, it can become an aneurysm. Dilated aortas are not as strong as normal aortas and can be at risk for rupture. However, once an aneurysm or dilated aorta is diagnosed, complications can frequently be prevented. If you or a family member has suspected or diagnosed thoracic aortic disease, the Vassar Aorta Program should be your destination of choice.
The Vassar Aorta Program is led by Jason Sperling, MD, FACS, chief of cardiovascular surgery, and Ellen Oehrlein, RN, BSN-BC, Vassar Aorta Program coordinator, cardiovascular and aortic specialists and pioneering aortic researchers. Our team has passion for and experience in diagnosing and caring for patients with complex aortic disease including aneurysm, dissection and genetic syndromes including bicuspid aortic valve (BAV). In addition to our sophisticated cardiac imaging technology, including CT and MRI scans and echocardiography, the Vassar Aorta MRA (magnetic resonance angiography) is specially modified to provide high-fidelity 3-D imaging without the need for intravenous contrast (no need to have dye injected). This provides our team with clues about aortic risk and identifies the presence of bicuspid aortic valve disease, an inherited heart condition that is a common risk factor in developing thoracic aortic aneurysms.
Once our team determines whether you have dilated aorta or aneurysm, or are at risk of developing it due to disorders with genetic links such as Marfan syndrome, Loeys-Dietz syndrome, biscuspid aortic valve and others, the next step of our caring process begins. Our team offers disease-specific counseling aimed at preventing aortic rupture as well as prevention of aortic growth and rupture through emerging medical therapies. One of the many benefits of the Vassar Aorta Program is personalized care and lifetime monitoring, providing you and your referring cardiologist with regular communication and peace of mind.
Why Choose Us?
- The Vassar Aorta Program is led by Jason Sperling, MD, FACS, chief of cardiovascular surgery at Vassar Brothers Medical Center and a member of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons Aortic Database Taskforce. Dr. Sperling brings exceptional depth of surgical and preventive treatment experience to Vassar Aorta, aimed at better identifying aortic risk based on a combination of specialized imaging, aortic tissue analysis and genetic testing.
- Specialists at the Vassar Aorta Program are experienced in implementing professional association guidelines for the management of thoracic aortic diseases. Guidelines, such as those published by the American Heart Association, maintain strict criteria for indicating aortic intervention versus conservative management of thoracic aortic disease and provide other direction for intervention and treatment. The team is committed to staying up to date on these guidelines, which can be complicated and ever-changing.
- The Vassar Aorta team is highly skilled in thoracicaortic diagnosis, medical treatment and complex surgery, including the valve-sparing aortic root David procedure which provides a long-term, durable solution for patients who can avoid the risk of dangerous blood clots without the need for blood thinners.
- We offer special screening for family members who are at risk for thoracic aortic disease.
- The team offers and leads genetic testing into genetic disorders such as bicuspid aortic valve, Marfan syndrome and Loeys-Dietz syndrome, along with at least 22 more genes of interest that are just beginning to be understood. The Vassar Aorta Program is leading national research regarding the genetics of aortic dissection and rupture.
- The Vassar Aorta Program maintains a formal registry for patients and family members that comprises a sophisticated database of thoracic aortic disease. Participants are provided ongoing medical guidance for treatments and updates about risk for complications. The team’s full-time nurse coordinator, Ellen Oehrlein, RN, BSN-BC, administers the registry and facilitates long-term relationships with participants and support groups.
Conditions We Treat
- Aortic dissection (tear)
- Bicuspid aortic valve
- Dilated aorta
- Genetic aneurysm syndromes
- Loeys-Dietz Syndrome – a genetic disorder of the body’s connective tissue similar to Marfan syndrome. The disorder is marked by aneurysms in the aorta.
- Marfan syndrome – a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that may result in serious complications of the heart and aorta with an increased risk of mitral valve prolapse and aortic aneurysm.
- Thoracic aortic neurysm
Treatment and Technology
- Aortic valve repair
- ECG-gated CTA of chest
- Complex aortic root, ascending and arch surgery
- Descending and thoracoabdominal aortic surgery
- Hybrid endovascular stent grafting procedures
- Procedures for patients who have had prior open heart surgery
- Surgery for acute and chronic aortic dissection
- Valve-sparing aortic root David procedure
- Vassar Aorta MRA – the MRA (magnetic resonance angiography) provides high-fidelity 3-D imaging without the need for intravenous contrast.
- Preventive aortic medicine – For the majority of dilated aorta patients, preventive medicine enables you to live with the condition. The Vassar Aorta Program provides ongoing preventive care and support, including attention not just for you, but also for family members who may be at risk for inherited thoracic aortic disease. Our specialists maintain regular communication with your referring cardiologist and facilitate long-term relationships to ensure coordinated care. Our preventive team assists with:
- Identifying burden of aortic disease and interpretation of aortic imaging.
- Disease-specific counseling aimed at preventing aortic rupture.
- Screening family members who are at risk for thoracic aortic disease.
- Following and treating patients over their lifetime through a responsible and organized registry.
- Preventing progression of aortic growth or rupture through emerging medical therapies.
- Genetic testing.
When Surgery is Needed
Only a small percentage of aorta problems require surgery. When patients with known aneurysm experience sudden and severe new chest, throat, back or abdominal pain, it is a medical emergency requiring immediate surgical intervention. These indications may mean that you are in need of surgery:
- Acute new severe chest, throat, back or abdominal pain
- Aortic growth or growth of an established aneurysm
- Lifestyle or occupational risk from aortic dilation or aneurysm
- Family history of aneurysm, dissection (aortic tear) or rupture
- Family history of genetic syndromes such as bicuspid aortic valve, Loeys-Dietz syndrome and Marfan syndrome
- Women with dilated aorta or aneurysm who are contemplating pregnancy