For the first time in this region, a free screening will be held Saturday, February 23rd to try to find folks who are wearing this time bomb, of sorts. The problem? Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, or Triple A, for short. It's a story we've covered before, but this time we have good news that a free screening could save your life.
"Either I have the surgery and get the aneurysm repaired, or it will kill me. I don't want to die yet," says Robert Simmons.
That was in July of 2000 at Covenant Heart Institute. 71 year-old Robert Simmons of Clovis was the first patient in West Texas to get a new kind of surgery to remove a Triple A, and it saved his life. In fact, he was up and around the next day.
Aneurysms are caused by a weakening or damage in the wall of an artery. An Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm means that just below the kidneys, the aorta, the main blood vessel from the heart is bulging like a balloon. If it bursts, the patient often dies.
Every year, 200,000 Americans like Robert discover they have an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. Dr. Guy Wells, a Cardiologist at Covenant, is hoping that a first of its kind free screening this Saturday will find these folks before it's too late.
"Some patients present with back pain or abdominal pain, but mostly 90% of patients have no symptoms at all, unless you can find it in an x-ray or a routine exam, unless it's already ruptured. We're here to pick up these patients in an early stage before it becomes a mass as this patient did," said Dr. Guy Wells.
Just minutes earlier, doctors at Covenant found a bulging artery. "If this is not repaired, his survival is less than a year, for certain," said Dr. Wells.
So what happens in a screening for Triple A? Bo McKee shows us it's as simple as baring your stomach for an ultrasound. Yes, it's a little messy, but it's non-invasive.
"Does it hurt?"
"Not at all, just light pressure."
Deanna, the technician, presses against the abdomen to find the aorta.
"We can see it pulsing. That's the aorta?"
"That's the aorta we're concentrating on -- right in the middle. Measure the size of it, okay."
Bo is in the safe zone at 1.9. Anything above four centimeters is a concern.
"This patient, by comparison, is eight centimeters, but lucky, that surgery could save his life."
So who's at the greatest risk of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm? Those over 60 who have ever smoked or who have a history of hardening of the arteries. Although women do suffer, it was Triple A that killed Lucille Ball, men are four times as likely to develop the condition.
The Triple A screening is a first, and Dr. Wells will be there to check every ultrasound, but there are many other reasons to attend the Heart Matters Health Fair this Saturday. Other screenings available include EKG, lipid profile, and blood glucose. There will even be a booth to check for peripheral vascular disease.
If you are interested in these tests, you can go to the Arnett Room on the sixth floor of Covenant Lakeside on Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to Noon. The only appointments needed are for the Triple A or EKG screenings.
You can call toll free @ 1-877-60-HEART
Again, all the services at the health fair on Saturday are free. Triple A can occur with no symptoms at all, but patients may feel a sense of fullness in the upper abdomen or they may see some pulsing in the stomach while they're lying down. There could be a steady, gnawing pain in the lower back or a sudden onset of pain in the back or lower abdomen.