Westerly, Rhode Island, resident Brian recalls little from the night he suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm. One snippet involves a memory of being loaded into the SkyHealth emergency transport helicopter but not the quick flight to Yale New Haven Hospital for lifesaving surgery.
At 65, Brian, who enjoyed his six-day workweek as a self-employed construction contractor, decided to “hit the sack early” one Wednesday evening in December 2018. But any attempts to sleep that night were eclipsed by crippling, severe stomach pain.
Hearing Brian call out in panicked distress, his wife, Kathie, phoned 911 for an ambulance to Westerly Hospital. When Brian arrived at the Emergency Department, John Riedel, MD, was on duty. Dr. Riedel ordered a CT scan that revealed a 9 cm ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm.
With rapid blood loss underway, Brian needed surgery quickly, Dr. Riedel explained to Kathie. A ruptured aorta, the major blood vessel in the body, can quickly cause death.
“I knew exactly what we were dealing with,” recalled Kathie, who realized the gravity of her husband’s condition.
Riedel quickly arranged for the SkyHealth helicopter to transport Brian from Westerly to Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH) for emergency vascular surgery. It would be the first of two major lifesaving surgeries performed by specialists with YNHH’s Heart and Vascular Center within days.
Even before SkyHealth landed on the helipad at YNHH, vascular surgeon Naiem Nassiri, MD, of Yale Medicine, had reviewed Brian’s CT scan and was prepared for surgery that began within minutes of the helicopter’s arrival. Dr. Nassiri performed minimally invasive endovascular surgery to seal the hole in Brian’s ruptured aorta. The two-hour procedure required no stitches and only two bandages. “His aneurysm repair was completely successful in eliminating the rupture and restoring blood flow through Brian’s aorta,” said Dr. Nassiri.
But shortly into his recovery, Brian suffered another medical emergency – a heart attack triggered by diseased coronary arteries. He needed emergency triple bypass surgery to restore blood flow within his heart. In Brian’s case, three blockages were repaired using grafts from veins in his legs and an artery in the chest. Brian spent nearly a month at YNHH, healing and regaining strength, before he was discharged.
More than a success story, Brian’s outcome could be called “miraculous,” Dr. Riedel said. “When I saw that the patient walked out of the hospital in very good condition, I was first of all surprised, and then I was thrilled.”
“All in all, it was the perfect storm for success, not disaster,” said Kathie, describing the advanced medical care that Brian received and the continuing care through Yale New Haven Health.
After leaving YNHH, Brian continued recovery closer to home for two weeks at a nursing facility. Coordinated care continued with cardiac rehabilitation at Westerly Hospital’s Heart and Vascular Center. He now regularly sees cardiologist Roshank Bagheri, MD, of Northeast Medical Group, who practices in New London.
To improve heart function, Dr. Bagheri arranged for Brian to receive a biventricular ICD (a combined defibrillator and pacemaker). This tiny device to help keep the heart pumping normally was implanted in 2019 at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital by Yale Medicine electrophysiologist Ralph DeBiasi, MD.
Brian continues with maintenance cardiac rehab sessions three times a week at Westerly Hospital. “It’s absolutely great,” he said. “They’re very knowledgeable and I just felt very comfortable there.”
Having few memories of that fateful December does not bother Brian. He focused on recovery, eased back into working full-time and returning to his active lifestyle. That life includes serving as a Westerly Town Council member. As far as Brian is concerned, he’s “getting better all the time.”