The sound is unmistakable. It’s the audible signal that Loyola University Medical Center’s medical emergency helicopter is transporting a critically ill or severely injured patient.
But imagine hearing the chopper blades whirring from inside the helicopter, realizing that your life is in grave danger and that your local hospital could not save you.
Guadalupe Rodriguez, 39, survived that ordeal. Last July, the husband and father of three children entered a race for his life, a sprint from his hometown of Joliet to Loyola’s Heart & Vascular Medicine specialists.
Guadalupe had developed a spontaneous dissection (a blister-like bulge) in the common iliac artery, an extension of the aorta that delivers blood from the heart. Guadalupe’s common iliac artery had ruptured; blood that should have been nourishing his pelvis, buttocks, thighs, bladder and reproductive organs was now leaking out into his abdominal cavity.
“The pain came on fast on my right side, moving through my body, legs, stomach and back. It was about the worst pain I’ve ever had,” Guadalupe recalled.
To give him the best chance of survival, the Loyola team rushed Guadalupe from the helipad directly into the operating room. The surgical team led by Jae Sung Cho, MD, division director, Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy, Loyola University Medical Center (Loyola), was ready to jump into action.
“This was a complex procedure because of the location of the dissection and the ongoing loss of blood,” Dr. Cho explained. “We started with an endovascular (minimally invasive) approach, but as soon as it became evident that this was not the best option, we went to an open operation to stop the bleeding and repair the artery with bypass surgery.”
High Volume of Procedures
Each of Loyola’s surgeons on Dr. Cho’s team is highly proficient in both the open and minimally invasive approach. Being able to employ either technique based on the unique situation proves to be life-saving for patients like Guadalupe.
Dr. Cho and his colleagues perform a high volume of aortic surgeries in the chest and the abdomen. This is important because the correlation between the number of surgeries performed and successful outcomes is well established. Faced with life-threatening situations, the more experienced team is able to react and make the right decisions quickly.
In addition, Loyola is dedicated to multidisciplinary collaboration. Vascular disease can affect the entire body - some patients may also have problems with arteries that supply blood to the heart,brain, legs and feet. Input from specialists in all those areas allows Loyola to offer the best care plan for each patient.
“We often discuss cases as a group to learn from each other’s experiences and areas of expertise,” said Bernadette Aulivola, MD, vascular surgeon and medical director, Noninvasive Vascular Laboratory at Loyola. “We meet within our group of vascular surgeons and with other specialists that also treat related diseases and conditions.
When we make a clinical recommendation to a patient, it’s often the result of the multidisciplinary collaboration. That is one of the strengths of our Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine.”
The team participates in clinical trials designed to help physicians worldwide to better understand vascular disease and find ways to potentially treat conditions not only with minimally invasive or open surgeries, but also with recent advances in medications. These trials are available to patients that meet a study’s eligibility requirements.
Living in a State of Thankfulness
“Loyola, Dr. Cho and his team saved my life,” says Guadalupe with emotion and extreme gratitude. “I thank God every day that he put me in their hands. From the helicopter personnel who fought to keep me alive to Dr. Aulivola and the other doctors who were coming to my room to check on me, to the nurses who were awesome and so caring. They not only helped me with my medical problem but also with my emotions. They made me feel like I was home.”
Last fall, Guadalupe started a cardiac rehabilitation program in Joliet and he expects to be back at work in early 2014. He looks forward to riding his motorcycle. In the meantime, Guadalupe’s medical team has discovered that Guadalupe has a rare genetic condition, which they believe caused his critical problem.
“We needed to determine what led to this unusual problem in such a young man,” Dr. Cho said. “We found that Guadalupe has a rare (one in 5,000 births worldwide) genetic abnormality called Ehler-Danlos syndrome. We have educated Guadalupe about the possible effects of his condition, the necessity for life-long surveillance and the necessary changes to his lifestyle.”
Dr. Cho thinks Guadalupe will do well in the future, yet as with most of their vascular disease patients, Dr. Cho and his team will continue to see Guadalupe for many years.
What started as a sprint to surgery is now a marathon on the road to good health.
"We want to make sure Guadalupe doesn’t have problems with other arteries or develop high blood pressure,” Dr. Cho said. “We will educate and encourage him to lead a lifestyle that will reduce the risk of developing another critical problem.”
Dr. Cho’s concern for Guadalupe and his family is in line with Guadalupe’s own ambitions. “My first goal is to work hard for my children and help them go to college. My son is thinking of becoming a doctor. He knows Dr. Cho saved my life. He wants to be like him.”
Loyola Cardiovascular Specialists Earn High Praise
For the 11th year in a row, Loyola’s Heart & Vascular Medicine program has been nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report®. Only three percent of all hospitals earn a national ranking in any specialty. In its prestigious 2013-14 listing of the top patient-care programs and institutions in the United States, U.S. News listed the heart program as number 20 in the nation. Loyola is the only Chicagoland hospital ranked for 11 years running.