Diagnosis of Massive Aneurysm Came Just in Time

Retired school teacher, Patricia of Ocean Township, has been a patient of Monmouth Medical Center ear, nose and throat surgeon John Saporito, MD, for more than 25 years. But a recent visit turned out to be anything but routine when Dr. Saporito noticed a small lump in Pat’s neck — an observation that would prove to be life-saving.

Dr. Saporito noted that Pat was never one to complain, and when she commented to him that she was having pain in her neck below her ear, his medical instincts immediately told him something was not right.


“I’ve been a patient of Dr. Saporito’s for years — he knows me, and he knows I don’t complain," she said. "He wanted me to have a CT scan of my neck done, and when I hesitated, he really insisted that I get it done right away."

On his urging, she had the CT scan performed at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC), a facility of RWJBarnabas Health, and had just returned home when Dr. Saporito called her to have further radiology studies done.

"Dr. Saporito asked me to return immediately for a CT scan of my chest," Pat recalled. Within hours, she was diagnosed with a massive aortic aneurysm and urgent transport to the Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center was arranged.

Two days later, Craig Saunders, MD, Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery, performed the complex surgery to repair her aorta and replace her aortic valve that was damaged by the 3.5 inch aneurysm. “Surgery for an aneurysm that size was once considered very risky but, in experienced surgical hands the results can be very good,” said Dr. Saunders.

Dr. Saunders’ team used hypothermic circulatory arrest to perform the delicate procedure. Pat’s body was cooled to 18°C, the heart lung machine was turned off and for 18 minutes her metabolism was completely suspended. “Draining the aorta of blood gives us direct vision into the vessel in a way that is impossible if the heart lung machine is functioning,” explained Dr. Saunders. Because Pat’s aortic aneurysm originated at the top of her heart, the damage extended down to her aortic valve and was allowing oxygenated blood that had just been pumped out of the heart to leak back in. After the aneurysm was repaired and her circulation restored, the next step was to replace her aortic valve.

“Dr. Saunders told me the aneurysm was something I could have lived with for 25 more years, or it could have ruptured and I could have been dead within a week,” said Pat.

“The bigger the aneurysm, the more tension on the vessel wall,” explained Dr. Saunders. “Without treatment, eventually there is a fatal rupture or leak.”

According to Pat, the care she received throughout her health crisis was unlike anything she had ever experienced.

“If I had been a member of the doctors’ own families, I could not have been treated any kinder. They arranged everything,” she said, adding that the staff on the "sixth floor" — the Cardiac Step-Down Unit at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center where she spent 12 days recovering from surgery — was phenomenal.

Today, Pat has fully recovered from her surgery and realizes just how lucky she was. “I had absolutely no symptoms of a heart problem. I have the rest of my life planned now – because Dr. Saporito and Dr. Saunders were able to save my life,” she said

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