Eight hour procedure
Heart stopped, started again

by Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 22/97) - A Northwest Territories woman, lucky to be alive, was recovering Sunday from a rare heart-stopping procedure done to repair an aneurysm.

In an eight hour procedure, surgeons at University of Alberta Hospital hooked Violet Mackenzie, 38, to a heart-lung bypass machine Saturday then cooled and drained her blood.

The procedure slowed her metabolism and lowered pressure in her blood vessels.

Deflating the vessels makes the aneurysm - a weakening of the artery wall - easier to repair.

She was without blood flow to the brain - clinically dead - for a few minutes.

After Mackenzie's carotid artery was repaired, the heart-lung machine was restarted and her blood was slowly warmed and recirculated through her body. Her heart, which had been stopped for over three hours while she was on the bypass machine, then started to beat again.

"She is doing much better today (Sunday) than yesterday. She knows where she is and was able to answer all the questions asked after the operation," said Mackenzie's husband Chris Rodgers.

Mackenzie, 38, is a daughter of Dogrib elder Elizabeth Mackenzie of Rae.

Mackenzie, who now lives in Yellowknife, was lucky because she survived a mild hemorrhage and a severe headache. A second hemorrhage is fatal, said neurosurgeon Max Findlay - one of about a half-dozen surgeons involved in the procedure - in an Edmonton newspaper report, Sunday.

The headache started last Monday while Mackenzie was working for the Department of Justice outside Fort Smith, Rodgers said.

She collapsed when she got off the plane and later passed out. After regaining consciousness, she complained of loss of feeling in her left leg. She was kept overnight in hospital in Fort Smith, then a doctor sent her to Yellowknife, Rodgers said.

"Wednesday, I took her to the hospital in Yellowknife where she sat in emergency for two hours, then left," Rodgers said. Still in pain, she went back Thursday, when she was seen by a physician.

"Dr. (David) Butcher immediately phoned for air ambulance," Rodgers said.

Mackenzie had a CAT scan Friday and the operation on Saturday morning.

Findlay, who led the team of surgeons, said in the newspaper report that Mackenzie's story is typical of a "lucky" aneurysm patient.

They experience a sudden severe headache caused by a hemorrhage which takes them to the doctor. But a second hemorrhage would have been fatal, he said.

Though Mackenzie is doing well, there is chance she could get worse, Rodgers said.

Rodgers, with his wife, is hoping an organization or individual will come forward to co-ordinate a fundraising effort to help the family financially.

Donations will be accepted at the Northern News Services office in Yellowknife in the interim.