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The stomach pain reached the point of being unbearable. Eugene Dennert of Columbia, S.D., asked his wife, Jeanette, to take him to the ER at Sanford Aberdeen Medical Center 25 miles away.

That’s where Eugene learned something that may have saved his life.

An abdominal CT scan showed his stomach pain was caused by diverticulitis, a digestive condition that gradually improved.

“But they also found an aneurysm,” says the 68-year-old retired trucker. “I had no idea.”

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the lower part of the aorta, the major vessel that supplies blood to the body. If large enough, an AAA can rupture, causing severe bleeding and rapid death. AAA is the 13th leading killer in the United States.

“I was a little worried,” he says, voice cracking. “My mother passed away from this when she was about my age.”

Expert evaluation

An appointment with Vickie Ernst, physician assistant at Sanford Aberdeen Clinic, led to a consultation with vascular surgeon Dr. Patrick Kelly from Sanford Vascular Associates in Sioux Falls. Each Monday Dr. Kelly comes to Sanford Aberdeen for consultations, procedures and follow-ups.

An exam and tests indicated Eugene was a good candidate for endovascular (minimally invasive) AAA surgical repair. Though not an emergency, surgery sooner rather than later was important because once a rupture occurs, surgical success rates fall dramatically.

“When Dr. Kelly explained what had to be done, I asked if I’d have to go to Sioux Falls,” says Eugene. “When he said it could be done in Aberdeen, including all follow-up, I said ‘let’s do it here!’ ”

Extensive experience

The only board-certified vascular surgeon in the Aberdeen area, Dr. Kelly brings extensive experience. Since 2004, he has performed more than 500 endovascular AAA procedures.

“Endovascular is a great way to fix aneurysms,” says Dr. Kelly. “Ninety-nine percent of the patients go home the next day. Within a week or two they’re back to their normal activities.”

Performed through two small incisions in the upper leg, the procedure involves the precise placement of a synthetic graft in the aorta. This strengthens the weakened area and prevents rupture.

In addition to surgical expertise, the procedure requires well-trained staff and high-level imaging equipment. All are available at the state-of-the-art cardiac cath lab at Sanford Aberdeen.

“Part of the procedure requires the surgical team, the other part the cardiac cath lab team,” says Dr. Kelly. “These professionals are great to work with.”

For Eugene, an unforgettable moment occurred immediately before surgery. He met every person who would be involved in his procedure. “They had their masks off and I got to see every one of them,” he says. “I thought that was quite nice.”

Eugene’s successful procedure

Eugene underwent endovascular AAA repair on March 4. The 45-minute surgery proceeded smoothly, just as expected. Eugene spent the night in the hospital and early the next morning Dr. Kelly came in to check on him. Dr. Kelly extends his stay to Tuesday whenever he has overnight surgical patients.

Eugene remembers walking the halls of the hospital at 5 a.m. “I made so many trips around the unit the nurses started counting them,” he says.

Eugene went home that morning and two weeks later was back to 100 percent. Today his active life includes mowing a large yard and helping a nearby farmer. A 42-year member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Houghton, he also serves on the Columbia township board and holds office in the local American Legion Post.

“I just want to thank Dr. Kelly and the staff at the hospital,” he says. “It’s a relief to have that aneurysm fixed.”

Are you at risk for AAA?

Most AAAs have no symptoms. Just as in Eugene’s situation, they’re found during exams or tests undertaken for other reasons. That’s why it’s important to be aware of certain factors that put you at increased risk for AAA. These include:

  • Being over 65
  • Being male
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of AAA in first-degree relatives (parent, sibling)

Call today

If you’re at increased risk for AAA, talk to your doctor. Your risk may indicate a need for imaging tests to learn more.

If you have a vascular concern, make an appointment today with Dr. Kelly at Sanford Aberdeen by calling (605) 312-7300 or (800) 618-3186.

Posted Date: July 2013

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When Eugene Dennert was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm, he was relieved to learn he could get advanced surgery at a hospital just 25 miles away: Sanford Aberdeen Medical Center.