Beirne Chisolm

Age: 61

Cancer Saved My Life

Beirne Chisolm

I got a cool new scar in London on the last day of March 2023…

I’ve joined the “zipper” club after open-chest surgery at the incredible London Bridge Hospital to repair my aortic aneurysm.

So….why, you ask, did I go all the way to London from my home in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA??

Simple: Here in the USA, the FDA has not yet approved the procedure I chose to do, and therefore it’s not offered. Crazy right? 

As we all need to be CEO of our own health, I researched and learned about this novel procedure that is less invasive, less risky, less costly, less time under anesthesia, no heart/lung bypass pump, no heart stoppage (as it’s done on my beating heart!), and I keep all my own parts & pieces. I chose the better solution for me.

The innovative PEARS Procedure (Personalized External Aortic Root Support) is a simple fix to an age-old plumbing problem: Support the pipe externally with an engineered implant built to fit each patient. 

In the USA, the process is to cut out the aorta and replace it with a dacron tube. Heart is stopped, bypass pump is used, body is iced down, surgery is 6+ hours vs. 2 for PEARS. Complications galore exist. Recovery is long. Many need additional surgeries down the road. 

How does PEARS work? After a few CT Scans, they made a 3D model of my aorta. Then they actually 3D print a hard form of it, and from there, they use that form to make a custom, bespoke mesh sleeve that exactly fits me that is then placed around my existing aorta to snug it up and keep it from ever expanding or bursting. 

Pretty. Damn. Cool.

I’ve always been a very active, very lean, very fit person, and I was always told I had a “flow” murmur due to my “strong” heart and athletic lifestyle. Most Doctors could not even hear the murmur unless I told them about it.

At age 50, I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC Melanoma Cancer. Not a fun day. I spent 5 years in a clinical trial where I was scanned, ultrasounded, poked, prodded, probed, and procedured every few months. I beat the Cancer! 

At the end of 5 years I was N.E.D. – No Evidence of Disease – and free to go….BUT….now I was told that I needed to see a cardio-thoracic surgeon!? What? Why? “Well….you have a growing Aortic Aneurysm”, they said.

Turns out that murmur was due to a bicuspid aortic valve (BAV), and that it was the cause of the ascending aortic aneurysm. BAV is the most common genetically inherited heart defect on the planet. Studies show that perhaps 2-3% of the population have BAV, and many of those have growing aortic aneurysms….and don’t know it, like me. My cancer scans showed my growing aorta….a ticking time bomb without my knowledge.

It was growing about 1mm per year, and we watched it the past 6+ years getting bigger with time….and eventually…it was time for intervention. Without my cancer diagnosis, I would have never known, and probably would have dropped dead one day due to a ruptured aorta.

I chose the PEARS procedure from Dr. Conal Austin and his Cardiac Team of absolutely amazing humans, especially Alan Rayner! Dr. Austin (& team) have performed more PEARS procedures than anyone else, at London Bridge Hospital, as well as in many other European countries.

I had open-chest surgery on a Friday morning, and was allowed to walk out of the hospital and walk to our hotel 4 days later, and I really felt pretty good. 21 days after landing in the UK we flew back to Salt Lake City, and on the road to full recovery with no more worries about my aorta rupturing. The ticking time-bomb has been defused.

I’ll be honest, the first 24-36 hours after open heart surgery were a bit rough, but I felt OK, and had little pain. I was up and walking right away, and just kept moving until they let me go! I kept walking daily along the Thames, and gained strength with the passing days.

Back in Salt Lake City my wife filmed me jumping rope again at 3 weeks post op….and feeling fairly normal. It just got better from there and by 8 weeks was back doing my normal workouts and feeling great. Nothing to worry about anymore!

Thanks for this innovative PEARS procedure goes to the brilliant Tal Golesworthy in the UK. Tal was Patient #1, he figured this out and was his own test subject, and 19 years later his aorta is perfectly stable. His TED talk about his journey has been viewed 1.4M + times.

PEARS has now been around for almost 20 years and offered in dozens of surgical centers all over the UK, Europe, Australia, and more. But NOT here in the USA. We need to change that!

Tal was fortunately IN London during my surgery and stopped by to meet with me, right as I came out of surgery. The photo here is in the ICU, and we are showing off our respective aorta models!

I’m Lucky #772 to have had this procedure globally. I’m one of only a handful of US Citizens who have done the lap to the UK to have this surgery, and I’m the only one in Utah. Huge thanks to Dr. John Doty MD, my Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeon, from Intermountain Heart Institute here in Salt Lake City, who not only told me about PEARS initially, but Dr. Doty also flew over to the UK to scrub in and observe my actual surgery to learn more about PEARS firsthand. He would love to bring it to the USA. Thanks also to the many brave people I spoke with who took this exact journey before me and helped solidify my decision about PEARS. Many of them have shared their experiences on these pages, and I can’t tell you how nice it was to hear their stories, encouragement, and fantastic end results. Thank You Ray, Christine, Sepehr, Brent, Ricky, Eii, and others. You’ve all saved my life in more ways that you could know. 

The photo is 3 weeks post op, back in Salt Lake City, with Dr. John Doty.

Remember to ensure that you are exploring all options for your own health issues. Don’t settle. It’s your life. You may have to look a bit further than you think.

Year of operation: 2023