The Challenge: Flu-like Symptoms and Back Pain
In April 2017, Rick Swank thought he had the flu. He felt tired and run-down, with very little appetite and a low-grade fever. He had no history of heart or blood vessel problems and was otherwise in good health.
Rick spent weeks in and out of local hospitals with ongoing symptoms. He visited his primary care doctor on several occasions seeking relief from his symptoms, which included shoulder and back pain.
His doctors thought he had some type of infection, but antibiotics failed to resolve the problem. And a variety of medications didn’t ease the pain in his back and shoulder.
After going to the emergency department at UPMC St. Margaret, Rick learned he likely had a rotator cuff tear in his shoulder.
Patrick Smith, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at UPMC, recommended an MRI of Rick’s spine to assess his ongoing pain. In June, Rick had the MRI and expected results within a few weeks.
The Path to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute
Later that same day, Rick received a phone call asking him to go straight to the emergency department at UPMC Shadyside, where he needed to see Michael Singh, MD, chief of vascular surgery.
Rick’s MRI incidentally showed two separate infected aneurysms.
The first aneurysm involved Rick’s abdominal aorta, the largest artery in the abdomen. The second involved his right femoral artery, the main artery in the leg. Both are major blood vessels.
Arteries have three layers. In a healthy artery, blood flows through the inner layer to bring oxygen and nutrients to your organs and tissues. The middle layer allows your artery to handle the pressure of blood flow. The outer layer connects the artery to nearby tissue.
An aneurysm happens when an artery becomes weak and bulges or balloons outward. If left untreated, aneurysms can rupture and lead to life-threatening bleeding.
Because Rick’s aneurysms were infected, he also had features of sepsis. Sepsis is a potentially deadly condition that occurs when an infection is present in the body.
The Solution: Vascular Surgery to Remove Rick's Aneurysms
The day after doctors admitted him to UPMC Shadyside, Rick had an urgent operation with Dr. Singh and his team.
During the procedure, Dr. Singh removed Rick’s infected and aneurysmal abdominal aorta. He replaced it with a Dacron graft — made of synthetic material — to restore healthy blood flow.
After this major operation, Rick needed time to heal before having a second surgery.
One week later, Dr. Singh repaired Rick’s infected right femoral artery aneurysm in a similar manner. He removed the femoral artery and replaced it with a Dacron graft.
“He saved my life,” Rick said, grateful for the care he received at UPMC Shadyside.
“Dr. Singh and his whole team are such good people. Whatever questions I had, they answered, and they took as much time with me as I needed. I'm also truly grateful to Dr. Smith, for finding the aneurysms on my MRI and enabling me to get them treated,” Rick said.
Rick went home at the end of June and has recovered well.
Although he still needs to have his rotator cuff repaired, he’s in good health. His back pain and flu-like symptoms have both resolved, and he's looking forward to going back to work this fall.
Rick's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.
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