SPY Technology is Saving Skin

Jason Marengo, M.D.

Quietly and without fanfare, NorthBay Healthcare has been using SPY Elite System technology to save the skin of surgical patients. It may sound like the plot of an espionage novel, but it’s really advanced medicine at its finest.

Championed by Oncoplastic Surgeon Jason Marengo, M.D., NorthBay Healthcare made the decision to invest in the $250,000 device earlier last summer, making NorthBay Medical Center the only civilian hospital in Solano County with the technology.

The equipment helps surgeons assess how much blood is flowing to critical areas in the body during and after surgery.

The equipment helps surgeons assess how much blood is flowing to critical areas in the body during and after surgery.

“That’s hugely important because the flow of blood determines whether the skin lives or dies,” explains Dr. Marengo. “When tissue has completely lost its blood supply, it typically appears discolored. Most surgeons can identify this before the end of the operation, and will remove this tissue. But there are times when the change in blood flow is not easy to recognize during an operation, and becomes more apparent a few days later. When this happens, we have lost an opportunity to avoid a complication. This may be a wound at the site of a reconstructed breast, or a life-threatening leak at a connection between two pieces of bowel.”

The equipment has already made a huge difference to several of Dr. Marengo’s patients, he said. “My efforts are all about saving as much skin as possible. This device allows a physician to see in real time how well blood is flowing into an affected area.”

Dr. Marengo is on a mission to educate his fellow physicians about the uses of the machine, which he says can be helpful in general surgery, cardiac surgery, urology, orthopedic surgery and even podiatry.

“It’s simple to use. A patient is injected with a safe, green dye, and then the machine uses an infared laser to stimulate the florescent properties in the blood, so a surgeon can see the blood flow,” he explains.

Dr. Marengo said the SPY system has shown to lower the rate of complications in immediate breast reconstruction from 15 percent to 4 percent.

“I have found it to be particularly useful in nipple-sparing mastectomies. In some breast cancer patients, during breast removal, we are able to preserve the overlying breast skin and nipple. When this is possible, it allows for immediate reconstruction. Generally, if reconstruction can be started during the initial breast cancer surgery, the cosmetic outcome is better.”

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