From the Heart: Donald

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Imagine a medical emergency so severe that you have hours to live. Would you understand what’s happening? What would you do?

Morton, Pa. resident and SEPTA bus operator Donald Peyton lived through just such a scenario. Thanks to his quick action and the skill of Crozer-Keystone’s cardiothoracic surgery team, he’s alive to talk about it today.

On January 8, 2016, Peyton, 50, was going through his day’s normal paces. “All of a sudden, I felt tearing from the center of my chest down to my right ankle,” says Peyton. He instinctively knew that something was terribly wrong and that he was experiencing a life-threatening cardiovascular emergency.

Gasping for breath, Peyton called to his wife Lynette. She dialed 9-1-1 and Crozer-Keystone’s paramedic team quickly arrived on the scene. Peyton was taken to Springfield Hospital, where he was promptly diagnosed with a dissecting thoracic aortic aneurysm.

Once stabilized, Peyton was transferred to Crozer-Chester Medical Center, where Charles M. Geller, M.D., chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery for Crozer-Keystone Health System, met him in the Emergency Department. Geller and his team went right to work on a complex 8-hour surgical procedure.

“We cooled Donald’s body to a very cold temperature, then drained all of his blood while preserving brain function – essentially, a ‘science fiction-like’ state of suspended animation,” Geller says. “We then replaced the damaged part of his aorta with a Dacron tube.”

What Causes an Aortic Rupture?

Considered a relatively rare occurrence, a thoracic aortic aneurysm is characterized by a bulge in the aorta, the largest artery of the body. If left untreated, the aneurysm can continue to grow until it tears or bursts. The person typically does not have any symptoms until the vessel ruptures, which may result in sudden, severe pain in the chest and/or upper back that can radiate to the neck or legs. It may also cause shortness of breath and loss of consciousness. When this happens, it’s essential to do exactly what the Peytons did – call 9-1-1 and seek immediate treatment at a facility that can surgically treat this emergency medical condition.

The most common risk factors associated with dissecting thoracic aortic aneurysm are high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, an aortic valve defect, certain genetic conditions, and having a family history of the condition. It’s usually found incidentally on imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT scans, for other medical concerns. Peyton was generally in excellent health before he fell ill. He worked out regularly and had no signs or symptoms that would suggest he had a health problem. 

Crozer-Keystone Cardiothoracic Surgery

Crozer-Keystone’s cardiothoracic program is rooted in decades of clinical excellence. Surgical services range from major aortic procedures to coronary artery bypass, aortic and mitral valve repair and replacement, and the Maze procedure to treat atrial fibrillation. The health system’s Heart Team – consisting of cardiac surgeons, clinical cardiologists, echocardiographers and interventionalists – provides detailed information in easy-to-understand terms to all patients and their families, and involves them in every step of the care plan.

Request an Appointment

To request an appointment with a cardiovascular physician or for a non-invasive cardiac test at a Crozer-Keystone Health System facility, please complete the online secure appointment form below or call 1-866-95-PULSE (1-866-957-8573). A representative will get back to you within the next business day. We regret that we cannot take appointment requests for pediatric patients at this time.

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