An Annual Physical Turns into Lifesaving Visit: Lisa’s Story

March 22, 2024

When Lisa D’Allesandro-deMont arrived for her 2023 physical, it was like any other day. She felt perfectly fine as she drove to her routine annual appointment with her primary care physician, Nada Kerouz, MD, at Winchester Hospital. With a lengthy history of leading an active lifestyle, going to regular doctor’s visits and being mindful of her health, nothing could have prepared Lisa for a life-threatening complication at a physical.

But to her surprise, this annual check-up would be all but routine.

Asymptomatic Discovery

While listening to Lisa’s heart, Dr. Kerouz noticed something that she had not detected in previous exams. There was a strange sound in Lisa’s chest that was of immediate concern. Dr. Kerouz scheduled an appointment for Lisa to have an echocardiogram (also known as a cardiac ultrasound) the very next day, followed by a chest CT scan.

Lisa received a call shortly after the tests were completed. She had an aneurysm of the ascending aorta, described as a “dangerous size” for a woman. She would require immediate treatment.

Understanding the Diagnosis

An ascending aortic aneurysm is an enlargement of the first part of the aorta, the main artery in the human body. If untreated, this enlargement can tear, rupture or cause severe, life-threatening internal bleeding. Oftentimes, this is associated with bicuspid aortic valve disease, as it was in Lisa’s case.

Lisa wondered how this could have happened to her. Did she have a family history she was not aware of? How could this happen to someone who lived an active, healthy lifestyle? Why didn’t she experience symptoms?

“I had no symptoms at all, and no family history. I felt completely fine,” she said.

As it turned out, this diagnosis was not unusual. According to Prem Shekar, MD, FRCSEd, MBA, a nationally-recognized cardiothoracic surgeon and chair of Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center (LHMC), “It is common to have no symptoms of an ascending aortic aneurysm and both men and women are afflicted alike.”

Open Heart Surgery

Dr. Shekar from the Cardiothoracic Surgery department at LHMC performed an aortic valve replacement, resection, and a replacement of the ascending aorta; replacing the failing aortic valve with an artificial valve to improve blood flow, reduce symptoms of bicuspid aortic valve disease and prolong life.

“I was concerned for my whole family, and what the future held for me,” said Lisa. “But the LHMC team was extremely reassuring. Dr. Shekar struck a balance that was incredibly comforting and calming. He was serious as he explained everything in detail, but was also warm and personable. He came to my room in the ICU every night during my recovery. He held my hands and told me I was getting better every day. Sarah Capano, PA, was also so supportive and always available to answer my questions. ”

The Path to Recovery

Seven months post-surgery, Lisa is extremely grateful for the expertise of her primary care physician Dr. Kerouz and the LHMC doctors who put a treatment plan together and ultimately, saved her life. Since undergoing surgery, she no longer takes her health for granted, and is even more in touch with how she is feeling. She has returned to her passion of volunteering in her community and has even picked up a few new hobbies. She now plays (modified) rugby and hopes to soon take on the popular sport of pickleball.

“I have been feeling really well, and wanting to push harder, do more,” she said. “But I know I need to take more time to check in with myself and rest. I still see an exercise physiologist and am always monitoring my blood pressure and my heart rate.” said Lisa.

An Important Reminder

There is one thing Lisa keeps going back to as she reflects on the last year.

“I have always been a firm believer in making time for my annual physical,” she said. “Now, even more so. It is so important to be on top of your health, and put yourself first. I am just happy I went when I did. I couldn’t have been in better hands.”

Lisa’s story serves as an important reminder that an aortic aneurysm and other heart disease symptoms can happen to anyone. In addition to regular appointments with your primary care provider, make mindful choices and adopt heart healthy habits like these:

  • Stay active.
  • Manage stress and anxiety.
  • Maintain a balanced diet and avoid processed foods.
  • Monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Understand your family medical history.

Learn more about Cardiovascular Medicine at LHMC. To schedule an appointment, call 781-744-8460.