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Leading-Edge Vascular Surgery

Retired Police Officer Saved from Life-Threatening
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm


June 2006 — On the morning of November 14, 2003, John was taking a shower when he suddenly felt a punch in his kidneys that knocked him to the ground. His wife called 911 and in minutes, the 6'4" retired cop, who had curled into a fetal position, was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital.

A few hours later, the family learned how close their husband and father came to dying from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). That's because when a bubble in the body's main blood vessel bursts, the patient can bleed to death in minutes. In this case, John's life was saved by the fast action of David M. Feldbaum, MD, FACS, Chief of Vascular Surgery at Memorial Regional Hospital and vascular surgeon on the medical staff at Memorial Hospital West, Memorial Hospital Miramar and Memorial Hospital Pembroke.

"We are at the leading-edge of techniques for treating this silent killer," says Dr. Feldbaum. He raced to the hospital to take John into surgery, replacing the damaged section of aorta with a Dacron graft — a synthetic material used to repair blood vessels.

John not only survived, but he also thrived. However, he is a rarity: Only 10 percent of patients live to tell about their experience. Ruptured AAAs are difficult to prevent because they often do not cause symptoms until they burst.

The small percentage of AAAs diagnosed before rupturing typically are found by accident, often through an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI for an unrelated condition.

For these patients, Dr. Feldbaum offers a minimally invasive procedure that prevents the bubble from bursting. It requires making small incisions in both sides of the groin and threading a catheter up to the aorta. A stent, or tiny, fabric-lined metal cage, is then placed in the weakened area. It acts like a tunnel to direct blood flow through the artery and prevent blood from filling the bubble, which shrinks down like a deflated balloon.

Memorial hospitals are considered some of the most experienced healthcare facilities in South Florida treating AAAs with stents. The surgeons' expertise attracts patients from all over the United States, the Caribbean and South America, including some patients considered at high risk.

Nevertheless, Dr. Feldbaum is realistic about the procedure. "Although an open operation remains the treatment of choice for young patients who might outlive a stent, older patients and those with co-morbidities such as heart disease or frailty, are great candidates for stents," says Dr. Feldbaum. "And this is by far the largest group of patients at risk for AAAs."

Now age 65, John wishes he had known about his AAA and could have prevented its rupture. But he is extremely grateful for the care he received from Dr. Feldbaum.

To find a Memorial physician who is committed to patient- and family-centered care, call Memorial Physician Referral Service toll-free at (800) 944-DOCS. We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.