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 UC San Diego Health announced Thursday that its surgeons have completed their 4,000th lifesaving surgical procedure to clear scar-like tissue buildup in the lungs.

The complex procedure, called a pulmonary thromboendarterectomy, can take eight to 10 hours. According to UCSD, the surgeon must cease the patient’s heart function and blood circulation to access the lung’s miniscule arteries unencumbered. While the patient flatlines, surgeons clear the tissue with specialized tools in 20-minute increments, so as not to permanently damage the patient’s brain and heart functions.

“To do 4,000 of these surgeries, the most in the world with the best outcomes, requires a true team effort,” said Dr. Michael Madani, UCSD Health’s chief of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery. “I just could not be prouder of the multi-disciplinary team I work with.”

The surgery is the most effective treatment for chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, according to UCSD. Sheila Holt, the 4,000th patient to undergo the surgery, had a particularly difficult case of CTEPH, Madani said. Had it been five or 10 years prior, the surgery may not have been an option due to the tissue’s location in her lungs.

“Sheila had significant pulmonary hypertension with clots that were far out in the smaller vessels,” Madani said. “She’ll be in my memory forever now not only for being number 4,000, but a more challenging case, as well.”

UCSD’s PTE surgical department is the first in the country to receive Center of Excellence designation by the American College of Chest Physicians. According to the university, the program has had the lowest postoperative mortality rate in the world for the past decade at 1 to 2 percent.

“It’s surreal to be part of something that makes such a big difference in people’s lives,” Holt said. “I’m so happy I took this leap of faith. It’s life-changing.”

–City News Service