AUGUSTA – A local doctor is using an innovative type of vein surgery he calls a “lunchtime procedure” that can be completed in an hour, with the patient ready to leave soon thereafter.

A recent patient was MaineGeneral Medical Center operating room nurse Vickie Hunnewell, who developed varicose veins in her legs after years of being on her feet for long hours assisting surgeons.

Varicose veins are enlarged and filled with an abnormal collection of blood. They often resemble cords and may appear twisted or bulging.

Hunnewell, 46, of Gardiner learned that MaineGeneral’s vascular and thoracic surgeon, Dr. Cris Alvarado, was performing Venefit procedures, which require much less recuperation time than other varicose vein surgeries.

“My legs are tired and I’ve been experiencing a lot of discomfort,” Hunnewell said. “So I decided to do something about it.”

Alvarado, a 46-year-old former heart and lung transplant surgeon, practiced in Florida, then was in private practice in Delaware before moving to Readfield. He said a classmate of his from college, Dr. Robert J. Min, now president of the American College of Phlebology, invented the Venefit procedure.

Alvarado estimated that he has performed hundreds of Venefit procedures since 2004. He spends a lot of time performing “more serious vascular and thoracic procedures such as for lung or esophageal cancer, so this procedure, which can be done in an outpatient setting, is a nice break from those.”

He performs the Venefit procedure at the Manchester Medical Building, using local anesthesia. Alvarado said some other varicose vein procedures that are more invasive, such as vein stripping, may require up to four weeks of recuperation after veins are tied off and removed from the leg.

One of the most common risks of Venefit is bruising, which occurs in up to 10 percent of patients; a less frequent risk is blood clotting, Alvarado said. He added that both of those are risks with other varicose vein procedures as well.

In the procedure, ultrasound is used to show the inside of the vein while a catheter is threaded through it. A small probe is then inserted through the catheter and a device inside the probe heats up inside the vein, closing it off.

After the damaged veins are sealed off, Alvarado said, healthy veins in the area should pick up the normal blood flow. He said the damaged veins should then shrink and symptoms should improve.

After Hunnewell’s recent procedure, she walked out of the Manchester Medical Building wearing an ace wrap on her leg. Alvarado encourages patients to be active after the surgery to promote circulation and to help prevent complications.

According to Alvarado, the average cost of a Venefit procedure is about $500 and it’s covered by many insurance companies, because “they recognize that reimbursing for a procedure early in the disease course cuts way down on costs incurred from managing and treating advanced disease.”