The Silent Killer: Understanding Aortic Aneurysms

A Patient's Experience at CMC’s Aortic Center

Published 5/1/2024
Written By Laura Montenegro, Director, Communications & Public Relations

Richard Wilborg, an 89-year-old who had recently recovered from colon cancer, faced another health scare when a routine follow-up CAT scan revealed an aortic aneurysm. Fortunately, Wilborg's oncologist detected the aneurysm and referred him to Dr. Toufic Imam at CMC’s New England Heart & Vascular Institute.
 
An aortic aneurysm is a bulging or weakened area in the aorta, the main blood vessel responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. If left untreated, it can rupture, which can be life-threatening.
 
“I had no symptoms,” Wilborg recalled. “On one of my follow-up visits, my oncologist told me they had found an aneurysm in my aorta. When it had reached a certain size, she [my oncologist] told me it was time to get it taken care of. And that’s when I met the good doctor (Dr. Toufic Imam) and I’m certainly glad I did.” 
 
Wilborg was fortunate. His aneurysm was discovered incidentally during an unrelated screening. Unfortunately, for many, aortic aneurysms go undetected and present few, if any, symptoms. Left untreated, they can rupture, leading to a life-threatening emergency. Ruptured aortic aneurysms claim the lives of fifty percent of patients before ever reaching the hospital. However, early detection saves lives—allowing for the aneurysm to be repaired, often with minimally invasive techniques. 
 
Dr. Imam, a vascular surgeon at CMC’s New England Heart & Vascular Institute and part of the Aortic Center team explains, “Most folks don’t know that a simple, non-invasive ultrasound can be a lifesaver. Mr. Wilborg was fortunate that his aneurysm was detected during his cancer follow-up. Otherwise, he might never have known he was at risk of aortic rupture.”
 
Individuals with risk factors including, males between the ages of 65-75 with a history of smoking at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime or have a family history of aortic aneurysms, can qualify for a one-time abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening ultrasound covered by Medicare Part B.
 
CMC’s Aortic Center specializes in the early detection, surveillance and treatment of complex aortic diseases, encompassing both surgical procedures and, in some cases, endovascular procedures. A nurse is available by phone to answer questions about screening or treatment options and schedule screenings if appropriate.
 
Depending on various factors, treatment options for aortic disease may involve open or endovascular surgery. Wilborg underwent a minimally invasive endovascular aortic repair (EVAR) procedure, where a stent graft is placed at the site of the aneurysm to support the vessel and prevent it from bursting. In many cases, patients are pleasantly surprised by the relative ease of the procedure.

“I’m so thankful to Dr. Imam and my oncologist for saving my life. I didn’t know anything about aortic aneurysms before I had one, and I feel so blessed that my healthcare providers were looking out for me!” said Wilborg.   

For more information about CMC’s Aortic Center, go to CatholicMedicalCenter.org/aortic or call 603.361.9604.