Technician performing ultrasound on senior woman patient with abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Close-to-home care saves woman from hidden danger

Penny Clore, 72, from Georgetown, Illinois, had been dealing with stomach pain all day. Thinking it might be an issue with her digestive system, she tried laxatives and an enema, but the pain kept getting worse.

Penny went to bed on the evening of August 14, 2020, hoping the issue might resolve itself. Before too long, though, she couldn’t stand it any longer.

“It kept getting worse and worse, so I thought maybe something is wrong with me,” Penny said. “I sat on the bed and said, ‘No, I cannot stand it.’”

Penny woke up her daughter who lives next door. The two headed straight to OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center in nearby Danville.

In response to her stomach pain, the emergency department team at OSF Sacred Heart had a computed tomography (CT) scan of Penny’s abdomen performed. It showed that her aorta, a major artery, had dilated and grown to 8 cm where it passed through her abdomen, when it should typically be 1.5 – 2 cm.

Penny had an abdominal aortic aneurysm that was showing signs of inflammation on the scan and could potentially rupture or separate at any time. She needed expert vascular surgery care fast before she suffered possible life-threatening bleeding. Time was vital, and the longer she had to travel for surgery, the greater the risk of complications.

Expert care close to home

Fortunately for Penny, an expert vascular surgeon, Ravishankar Hasanadka, MD with OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute, performs both surgical and endovascular procedures at nearby OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana.

Penny was quickly taken into a specialized hybrid operating room at OSF Heart of Mary that accommodates both open surgery and minimally invasive endovascular surgery.

Through just a couple small incisions near the groin, Dr. Hasanadka was able to place a stent graft inside the aorta to reline the aneurysm with a stronger wall. This treats the issue from the inside and the procedure has less risk than open surgery where a large abdominal incision would be made to replace the aneurysm with a surgical graft.

The improvement quickly made a difference.

“Her abdominal pain went away immediately when her aneurysm wall was no longer pressurized,” Dr. Hasanadka said. “She was discharged after two nights in the hospital.”

Penny “was feeling just fine” as she left the hospital so soon after her aneurysm scare, and she was soon able to return to her normal daily exercise, hitting the treadmill for 30 minutes a day.

She was really impressed by the care she received and thankful for the extra effort Dr. Hasanadka and the team at OSF Heart of Mary put in to make her feel comfortable and valued.

“Dr. Hasanadka was a wonderful man, he really was,” Penny said. “He was kind. Plus, he took a photo and showed me everything he had done, so I understood. He put a picture on the board in my room to show me what he did and where.

“My daughter was waiting outside because of the pandemic restrictions, and the doctor called her cellphone to update her on my care, that’s how wonderful he is. He called her in the parking lot.”

The rest of the team made an impression on Penny, too.

“I had never seen that hospital before and they were nice people,” Penny said. “They take the time to actually speak to you. Everybody was just calm. They were so nice, every one of them, the people who delivered food, the nurses, the aides. I’ve never seen that before.”

Hidden danger

According to Dr. Hasanadka, abdominal aortic aneurysms often don’t have any symptoms, and they are found incidentally when a CT scan or an ultrasound is performed for another reason. Or, they’re not found until after they have ruptured.

Thankfully, these aneurysms can be found with a screening ultrasound, which everyone who meets the criteria to be at-risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm should get done. The Society of Vascular Surgery recommends a screening ultrasound for those over 65 who have smoked and those between 65-75 years with a first degree relative who has or had an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

“The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will pay for a screening ultrasound in men ages 65-75 who have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their life,” Dr. Hasanadka said. “That shows how linked smoking is to developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm.”

Getting screened is important, because the risk for complications increases dramatically when the aneurysm needs to be repaired after rupturing instead of being repaired before any trouble starts. Those complications include heart attack, kidney failure and even death.

If you fall into one of the categories above, you should contact your primary care physician to see if you qualify and arrange for a screening ultrasound. For compassionate vascular surgery care, call (217) 337-2924 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Ravishankar Hasanadka.

About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Heart Health, Patient Stories, Preventive Health