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Vascular Surgeons Save Lives with Specialized Techniques, Knowledge

Increased understanding of the vascular system, better technology, improved diagnostic abilities and advanced techniques have enabled Penn State Health St. Joseph vascular surgeons to provide better, less invasive treatments for patients suffering from a variety of vascular-related diseases and disorders.

The board-certified surgeons at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Vascular Institute treat all types of vascular disease, including conditions such as peripheral arterial disease, carotid disease, varicose veins and aortic aneurysmal disease.

They also perform balloon angioplasty and stenting for peripheral arterial disease, and provide dialysis access for patients suffering from kidney failure.

With the exception of the brain and heart, Penn State Health St. Joseph’s vascular surgeons treat any area of the body affected by vascular disorders.

“Vascular medicine and surgery covers a wide and diverse area of expertise,” explained Dr. Varuna Sundaram, who has been a vascular surgeon with Penn State Health St. Joseph for about three years. “We treat any vascular disorder that occurs outside of the brain or the heart.”

Vascular-related disorders in the heart or brain are treated by other specialized physicians and surgeons at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s.

Dr. Sundaram and Dr. P.V. Pathanjali Sharma, surgeons at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Vascular Institute, perform about 60 surgeries a month, each tailored to the individual needs of the patient. Many of the surgeries are highly specialized.

One of the most common conditions addressed by Penn State Health St. Joseph’s vascular surgeons is peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which affects more than 10 million people in the United States.

PAD is a condition in which plaque forms in the arteries, leading to a lack of adequate blood supply to limbs that are dependent on those arteries for blood flow. While it commonly affects the legs, PAD also can affect the arms, as well as the heart and brain.

Progression of PAD can be a slow process, but as the condition worsens it can cause pain in the legs and feet; ulcerations; and, in severe cases, gangrene, which can lead to limb loss.

While some risk factors for PAD are unavoidable, others can be reduced with lifestyle changes.

“There are two risk factors you can’t change, and those are aging and genetics,” Dr. Sharma said.

Other risk factors include tobacco use, obesity, diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension, kidney failure and high cholesterol.

Dr. Sharma, who has been with St. Joseph’s since 1993, said one of the most significant advances in vascular medicine is the increased ability to treat patients with minimally invasive techniques.

Conditions that used to be treated with open, invasive surgeries now can be addressed through minimally invasive methods, greatly reducing hospital and recovery times for patients.

Surgeons also employ hybrid practices, which combine a surgical approach with a minimally invasive one. These practices mean that surgeons have more and better options for treating patients.

“We can lower the chance of mortality by combining a minimally invasive approach with the open, surgical approach,” Dr. Sharma said.

Specialized rooms called hybrid rooms also offer surgeons the option of employing open surgery or using minimally-invasive techniques, as they contain equipment necessary for both approaches.

“We’ve seen advances in technology that help us with planning for each surgery we do,” Dr. Sharma said. “We have a game plan that’s always backed up by a Plan B and a Plan C.”

Gene therapy is another exciting area of advancement in vascular medicine, as it has the potential to enable doctors to treat vascular disease that previously was untreatable.

Penn State Health St. Joseph’s vascular surgeons are carefully studying the research as scientists and doctors continue to move ahead in this area.

“We’re looking forward to the day when the targeted therapies can be used to address and treat vascular disease that currently cannot be treated,” Dr. Sundaram said.

Varuna Sundaram, MD, RPVI, is a board-certified vascular surgeon at The Vascular Institute at Penn State Health St. Joseph. Appointments can be made by calling 610-378-2499.

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