This Sentara doctor is the first in the region to perform this necessary procedure without using surgery

VIRGINIA BEACH — When 51-year-old Jacquelyn Murrell went to get a fistula for dialysis treatment, she said she had no idea she was the first patient in Hampton Roads and the second in the state to be able to choose to have a non-surgical procedure.

A fistula, a connection between two blood vessels typically in the arm, is usually created by surgery and is common for dialysis patients to have.

What is uncommon, however, is the choice to use a new device called a WavelinQ to have a fistula created in an out-patient procedure.

As a safety inspector and trainer for the city of Chesapeake, Murrell said one of her worries about having surgery was she would no longer be able to perform the physical tasks of her job.

“I brought my youngest daughter with me to an appointment and the doctor gave us some paperwork to read about the differences and I liked the way it sounded so we chose that route,” she said.

Murrell said when she found out her kidneys were failing, she had decided to just “let it go and let it run its course” until her four daughters reminded her she needed to be there to watch her two grandkids grow.

“The one thing my doctor did tell my children was ‘the most I can give her is three months,'” she said. “Honestly, I don’t have too much trust in medical interventions but it turned out I didn’t really have any other alternatives.”

Dr. Samuel Steerman is the first doctor in the region to create a fistula for Jacquelyn Murrell by using the new "WavelinQ" device in a non-surgical procedure at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital. Murrell received a certificate for being the first patient to have the procedure done. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of Sentara Hospital)
Dr. Samuel Steerman is the first doctor in the region to create a fistula for Jacquelyn Murrell by using the new “WavelinQ” device in a non-surgical procedure at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of Sentara Hospital)

Dr. Samuel Steerman is the vascular specialist at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital here who used the new WavelinQ device to create Murrell’s fistula using electricity and two IVs.

Steerman said being able to offer a 45-minute out-patient and minimally invasive procedure removes a barrier to treatment for patients.

“You don’t have to be under deeper anesthesia, there isn’t an incision so it largely decreases the chance for infection, no pain medication is typically needed after, and it removes the scariness of going for surgery and being in the operating room,” he said. “It makes it more approachable for patients to get something that is ultimately better for their health.”

About 450,000 in the U.S. suffer from renal failure, Steerman said.

And, like Murrell, those patients “wouldn’t be able to live very long” without either a kidney transplant and/or dialysis to remove excess fluid and waste from their bodies.

Steerman said a working fistula is critical for effective dialysis which washes their blood of impurities and waste in treatment three times per week.

“These fistulas that the patients have are really their lifeline,” he said. “If for some reason a patient doesn’t have a functioning fistula or something that’s going to get their blood to the machine and back it’s a bit of a problem and in some cases, it’s an emergency.”

For Murrell, it’s been about two-and-a-half months since she started dialysis and she said other than the therapy being time-consuming, she’s grateful for Steerman and this procedure.

“I beginning to get my stamina back and my breathing has improved,” she said.

Both Murrell and Steerman share the same sentiment hoping this new technology will help and encourage more people.

“I’m hoping through this way we’re able to impact more people and more lives and make it easier for people to do what’s best for their health,” Steerman said.

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