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Like many busy women, full-time nurse Michelle DeLuca, 55, often gave low priority to looking after her own health. The mother of three hadn't checked her blood pressure for some time and she'd put off quitting cigarettes.
But the wake-up calls kept coming. Two of her friends had heart attacks in the past year and another friend learned she had a tumor on her heart when she had scans done after a car accident.
Determined to become more proactive about her health, DeLuca scheduled a heart scan at Edward Hospital in August 2015. This painless screening gauges calcium build-up in the coronary arteries, the most common cause of heart disease.
The scan showed Korinko's arteries were clear, but it did reveal something alarming – a thoracic aortic aneurysm. This is a bulge in a weakened section of the wall of the aorta, the largest artery in the body.
Aneurysms carry a risk of rupture and potentially fatal bleeding. The level of risk and whether immediate repair is needed depends on the size of the aneurysm as well as its location and rate of growth. DeLuca's aneurysm was located in the ascending portion of the aorta, which supplies blood to the heart.
DeLuca had a second scan in February 2016, which showed her aneurysm had grown from 4.3 cm to 4.8 centimeters in just six months.
"It was nerve-wracking to be carrying this bomb around," says DeLuca, who quickly scheduled an appointment with Bryan Foy, M.D., system medical director, cardiac surgery, Edward-Elmhurst Health and a cardiothoracic surgeon with Cardiac Surgery Associates.
The location of DeLuca's aneurysm, above her heart, meant a less-invasive, catheter-based repair inside the blood vessels was not an option. Instead, she required open chest surgery to remove the aneurysm and replace the damaged section of artery with a fabric tube called a graft so that blood flow could be rerouted. This complicated and lengthy operation requires an experienced thoracic surgical team and use of a machine during surgery to take over for the heart and lungs.
When DeLuca returned to work in April 2016, she reported she was "doing awesome." She now does her part to stay heart healthy. She quit smoking after her first scan, completed cardiac rehab and faithfully takes her beta blocker and aspirin. In June 2016, she had a follow-up CT scan of her aorta and everything looked good.
"The trajectory of her life and that of her family changed all because of something (surgery) that took less than seven hours,” says Dr. Foy. “She went from a 95 percent chance of dying within two to three years if the aneurysm was left undiagnosed and untreated, to a 95 percent chance of surviving."
DeLuca has become an advocate of the heart scan that led to her lifesaving surgery. Dr. Foy also recommends the scans for men over 50 and women over 55.
"If you have a moderate or higher calcium score you can initiate preventive measures,” says Dr. Foy. “And it's common that other findings are picked up incidentally, such as masses in the lung."
Adds DeLuca, "I've convinced about 10 friends to schedule the scan. You can have heart problems and not feel anything until it's too late. How hard is it to go in for a 15-minute test?"
Learn more about heart screenings at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Find out if you’re at risk for heart disease.
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