Robert “Bob” Jones felt an ache in his lower back one day last winter. November 4, 2011 was a typical day for the retired grandfather of seven. He took one of his grandsons to school that morning, did a little work in his garage and made a shopping trip to Home Depot. When the back pain started to increase, the 68-year-old figured it was due to lifting something in the hardware store or in his garage, and he decided to put on his rib belt for additional support. After a few more moments of throbbing pain, Jones did the predictable thing and went inside in search of his wife’s heating pad and a nap. He never made it into bed.
“It just hit me. Boom! And I keeled over,” Jones explains during an interview at his house The Torrance native didn’t have a heart attack. He experienced something more traumatic that most rarely survive: a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Luckily, Jones’ wife of 38 years decided at the last minute not to go grocery shopping and was in the house when it happened. Pat recalled hearing Jones cry out and then finding her husband collapsed on the floor at the end of their bed.
She called 9-1-1 at exactly 12:40 p.m., and in 10 minutes the paramedics and firemen arrived. By 1:30 p.m., they were checked into Torrance Memorial Medical Center’s Emergency Department, and with quick, decisive examination, prognosis and teamwork, Jones was kept alive and wheeled into surgery by 2:45 p.m.—a little more than two hours later.
Most people would die rapidly from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm,” explains John Stoneburner, MD, a cardiothroracic surgeon with the Torrance Memorial Cardiothoracic Surgery Center who performed the critical surgery that day.
Dr. Stoneburner explains that when a person has a ruptured aneurysm, if they don’t receive blood and fluids and get stabilized right away, they usually die. So in cases when a rupture occurs when a person is alone, they are typically dead within the hour.
Clearly, assistance is needed immediately, but in order to get the right care, physicians must quickly determine what course of action to take—requiring an emergency room doctor to conduct a quick examination and accurately determine an immediate strategy. Luckily for Bob, he was met at the emergency room by Monica Lee, MD, who diagnosed him accurately and then called Dr. Stoneburner, who arrived within minutes.
“Dr. Lee was not only taking care of my husband (after ordering a cat scan), but she was telling me what was happening every step of the way,” Pat says. She recalls how reassured she was during the frightening ordeal, due to the doctor’s calm, confident manner.
Not only had Jones’ blood pressure dropped dramatically, he had lost a significant amount of blood and suffered a small stroke. An entire team made sure Jones stayed alive, while the operating room (OR) staff prepared for his surgery.
“We had to get him intubated—give him fluids and blood because he was bleeding out. Anesthesiologist Dr. Mark Ancheta was worried we couldn’t get him to the OR in time. Basically, he was dead, and we revived and resuscitated him in order to open up his abdomen and bring up his blood pressure for surgery,” Dr. Stoneburner explains.
A Remarkable Scenario
Can you imagine that situation? It’s hard to imagine a person being clinically dead yet stabilized and then wheeled into surgery. But clearly, there was no other option or Jones would have died.
The fact that he survived such a dangerous ordeal, according to Dr. Stoneburner, boils down to two things:
- Torrance Memorial can take care of such high-risk situations in an emergency setting.
- The physicians work well in such a collaborative way.
“Dr. Monica Lee was very good at making a rapid diagnosis and getting him intubated and giving him fluids and blood, and the OR staff was great in getting the surgical suite ready. It required a lot of teamwork. It was very heroic. Most people would die in these conditions,” Dr. Stoneburner reiterates.
“A lot of credit goes to the emergency department, OR and anesthesia teams. We have a team environment at Torrance Memorial, and that counts,” he adds.
One Year Later
I peeked through the garage door into the garden beyond and noticed a slew of plastic ride-on toys. “This is a play house,” laughs Jones. His wife Pat, agrees. The two retirees spend their days taking care of some of their grandchildren, visiting with their four children and working around their Torrance home.
Both are thin, and spry—so it’s hard to believe that Jones was in the hospital for 23 days after his stroke and ruptured aneurysm last November. Pat was also in the hospital in November 2010 for a heart attack. The two said they definitely feel lucky to be alive.
Jones’ typically tough manner subsided, and his grey-blue eyes seemed a bit misty as he said, “Thank God Pat was here that day. And I trust Dr. Stoneburner with my life. The entire crew—from the ambulance to the emergency room—was just wonderful.”
“We’re just hoping for a non-eventful November this year!” Pat laughs.
I’m sure their entire family is crossing their fingers. But Jones and Pat know that if something should happen again this winter, a 9-1-1 crew and the Torrance Memorial team are just a phone call away.