AUSTIN -- Complex reconstructive surgeries often require doctors to make critical distinctions between healthy and unhealthy tissue, and it's all about the blood flow.
A new technology allows doctors to see where the blood is flowing quickly.
In 2008, Leah Lawson was diagnosed with a very aggressive breast cancer.
"It's frightening," Lawson said. "You know, you go through a big surgery and you kind of hope to be done, and to have to go through it again was very scary."
Lawson went through it again in September for two reasons.
"My body didn't seem to tolerate the implants well, and additionally I had another tumor recently removed," Lawson.
Instead of implants, Lawson opted for her own tissue. Surgeons took skin and fat from her stomach to reconstruct her breasts, and they used the Spy Elite Intraoperative Perfusion Assessment System to monitor blood flow during the procedure.
"It gives us a quick glimpse or quick view as to which tissues are getting blood," said Ned Snyder IV, M.D., a plastic surgeon who practices at St. David's Medical Center.
Snyder performed Lawson's surgery at St. David's. He said the Spy Elite system is a critical tool for surgeons when operating on patients like Lawson, who have had previous surgeries or scar tissue build-up. In this procedure on another patient, the Spy Elite uses a near-infrared light, a special dye and computer software to reveal, in real time, how much of the skin will survive.
"This allows us to quantify that blood flow to make a decision about if a certain amount of tissue may not do well or may die. It helps us limit complications with wound healing," Snyder said.
Lawson said she doesn't understand exactly how it works, but she said she knows for certain, after eight years, that she's comfortable in her own skin once again.
"It's my comfort level. I'm so much more comfortable now having my own tissue for reconstruction. I feel like me again. I feel whole," Lawson said.