Dodging a bullet

by Kent Caddick

Well my summer holiday didn’t turn out the way it was planned and many of you will have noted my absence from the pages of The Record over the past weeks.

My partner and three of our adult children had booked a bach at Tata Beach in Golden Bay for a week in early January. We have been going to Golden Bay for a number of years, as it was where my partner was living when we first met.

However, a week before we were to leave I found myself in Christchurch Hospital about to undergo major surgery for the removal of an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, or Triple A as it is referred to.

I had been having minor abdominal pains for around 10 months and had been going to my GP to try and resolve. I had been tested for a number of things including testicular cancer, which proved negative, and diagnosed with a bowel issue called diverticulitis for which I received antibiotics.

However, the pain continued and I wanted it sorted before I went on holiday. So I ditched my regular GP and took a chance on a locum at the local medical centre. I am so glad I did as he saved my life.

Dr Don Ponnamperuma, who is originally from Sri Lanka and likes to be known as Dr Don, had just finished an internship at the cardiovascular unit at Christchurch Hospital, which is where I was to eventually end up.

He was very quick to diagnose a potential Triple A and told me to go for an ultrasound. Simply put an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm is the balloon-like swelling of the aorta, the major artery which carries the blood from the heart to the lower body, including kidneys and legs. Once you have one, it continues to grow until it eventually bursts and you have less than a 15% chance of surviving a rupture.

Basically I had been a dead man walking for at least five years as it could have ruptured anytime. Once the ultrasound confirmed Dr Don’s diagnosis I was taken to hospital and underwent a five hour operation the following morning to remove the aneurysm and repair the aorta. The operation, under the guidance of Dr Peter Laws, was successful and I am expected to make a full recovery. An Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm is a killer and is actually a lot more common than people realise. The difficulty evidently is in the diagnosis.

However, I was a prime candidate… male, over the age of 55, high blood pressure, smoker with lower abdominal pain. Even people who have given up smoking can have one before they give up and it will continue to grow. There are moves afoot to introduce mandatory testing for it in men 60 years or older, and it is just a simply ultrasound so it’s not a biggie.

My advice to all you men out there, especially you smokers, is get it checked now and, of course, stop smoking. I have and will this week mark being smokefree for a month.

I won’t lie it can be hard giving up, but all I need to do is look at the 27cm scar, which runs from my breastbone to below my navel for motivation.