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A Runner's Heart Healed


Penn patient Elliot Gordon (right) completes a 12k after open-heart surgery
Over thesummer, I started training for my first 5K run. I’ve always beenrunning-averse, but it seems like everyone I know has gotten the running bug,so I decided to give it another try. I “trained” using a simple iPhone app andcompleted the Penn Medicine 5K for the IOA back in September.

I signedup for my second 5K last week, but I’ve been struggling to find the motivationto keep up with my runs. It seems so much harder now that it’s colder and getsdark hours earlier in the evening. But the next time I start to make up a newexcuse for why I can’t get my sneakers on, I’m going to remind myself of Pennpatient Elliot Gordon, profiled in today’s edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In April2009, he was training for the Boston Marathon, what would have been his 43rdsuch race.  But on the morning of April 5, out of the blue, the usuallyhealthy Gordon started to feel dizzy at his home in Princeton Junction, NJ. Within moments, he passed out.

Elliotwas suffering from an aortic dissection, the same condition that killed actorJohn Ritter in 2003. This serious heart condition results from a small tear inthe inner wall of the aorta, causing blood to flow between the layers of thewall of the aorta and force the layers apart. If the dissection tears the aortacompletely open (through all three layers), massive and rapid blood lossoccurs.

Afterbeing rushed to a local hospital, it was determined that he needed emergencyheart surgery.  He was transferred to the Hospital of the University ofPennsylvania (HUP).

At HUP,Joseph Bavaria, MD, vice chief, Division of Cardiovascular Surgery anddirector, Thoracic Aortic Surgery Program, performed an open-heart procedure tohave Gordon’s torn aorta removed and replaced with a synthetic graft.

"Heneeded an urgent intervention and the surgery itself is high risk," saysDr. Bavaria. "Half of patients suffering from an aortic dissection diebefore they even reach the hospital." 

Thankfullyfor Gordon, Dr. Bavaria and the HUP OR team have extensive experience incomplex aortic surgeries, with outcomes ranking among the best in the nation.After being rushed from the emergency transport, he was taken directly to theOR, where Dr. Bavaria and his team were able to accurately assess the situationand begin the operation.

Hisheart was in good hands. Despite the grim odds, after several hours in surgery,he was transferred to the HUP ICU to recover.

“Thesurgeons said I survived because my body was in such good shape. Had I not beentraining for Boston, I would have died.”

After a month and a half in the hospital, he was released in May 2009. He was25 pounds lighter and because he was already so lean from decades of running,there wasn’t much fat to loose in the first place. The loss was all muscle --he couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t stand, couldn’t walk.

He wasgiven the okay to try light running again after six months, but it took over ayear before he was finally able to jog slowly. In his first attempts back on atreadmill, he had many difficulties.  But he was determined to get back tothe sport he so loved and had dedicated decades of his life to.

On November20, 2010 he ran his first “return” 8k since the operation. A year later, onNovember 12, 2011, he ran a 12k race. This weekend, Elliot will take part inthe Philadelphia Marathon to run the half marathon.

“Not verymany people could, or would even attempt, to run a half marathon after thistype of procedure,” says Dr. Bavaria. “His surgery went so well that it enabledhim to keep going with his running. He really is a miracle man.”



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