Ticking time bomb: Screening saves Tucson woman from “silent killer”

The only time Barbara Unger spent time in the hospital as a patient was when she had her two babies.  At 82 years old, that’s pretty impressive.

The retired secretary and bookkeeper was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm many years ago during a routine checkup.  The aorta is the main artery that carries blood from the heart, and stretches down into the rest of the body.  In Barbara’s case, the wall of the aorta was permanently ballooned out in her abdomen due to the pressure of blood passing through.  If it ruptured, the results could have been catastrophic.

Dr. Thomas Lindow,Internal Medicine

Dr. Thomas Lindow,
Internal Medicine

After the diagnosis, her aneurysm wasn’t monitored until she switched primary care physicians in May 2010.

Luckily she did.

Her new PCP, Dr. Thomas Lindow, ordered an ultrasound right away.  “The moment we got the results, I saw instantly that it had to be repaired.  I immediately referred her to Dr. Matthew Namanny at Saguaro Surgical,” he said.

“I was very happy to have seen Dr. Lindow.  I’m so grateful he told me how serious the situation was getting,” said Barbara.  Dr. Namanny ordered a CT scan and determined that she needed surgery.

Dr. Matthew Namanny,Saguaro Surgical

Dr. Matthew Namanny,
Saguaro Surgical

During the procedure at Tucson Medical Center, Dr. Namanny placed a small catheter in Barbara’s groin, and used it to insert a stent in her aorta.  This removed the pressure that was causing the aneurysm, and eliminated the chance of it rupturing.  Barbara slept through the entire thing.  “I had no pain, no problem at all.  It was very simple.  I stayed overnight, and went home the next day.  It was as pleasant as a hospital stay can be.  TMC was very accommodating and the nurses took good care of me.  We laughed a lot,” she chuckled.   The surgery was a success.  She’ll just need an annual screening from now on to make sure everything is okay.

Barbara is one of the lucky ones – although she doesn’t quite fit the mold of who abdominal aortic aneurysms affect most often.  “This disease is typically found in older, white men who smoke,” said Dr. Namanny.  Family history also plays a major role.  “I tell every patient who has this, ‘Go tell your siblings, and notify your children.  When they’re about 40 years old, they need to get screened for this,’” he said.

That screening is absolutely essential, and is usually covered by insurance.  Since these aneurysms often don’t present any symptoms, they can go undiagnosed until they rupture and become fatal.  Fortunately, improvements in technology have made it easier for physicians to detect and treat them.

What used to require an open operation followed by a 7-10 day hospital stay, can now be accomplished in one day.  And since the procedure is less-invasive, physicians can operate on older patients who wouldn’t have been able to tolerate the surgery in the past.

For more information on abdominal aortic aneurysm screening, click here.

For information to help you determine if you should get a screening test, click here.

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  1. […] month, readers may have read the story about Barbara Unger, a Tucson woman who narrowly escaped a life-threatening situation due to a […]

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