by Chrys Peterson Dave Ziems July 14, 2017

Newswise — Rita Gillen grew up on a vegetable farm in Toledo in the 1920s, and all these years later, she still has a green thumb. At nearly 96 years young, Rita still drives and lives alone. She lost her husband Cecil five years ago after nearly 70 years of marriage. They never had a honeymoon, but made up for it in their retirement years with lots of exciting trips.

Rita will tell you she’s blessed with a full life, but a few years ago, routine health tests showed she had a potentially life-threatening abdominal aortic aneurysm.

According to Todd Russell, MD, FACS, a ProMedica Physician with Jobst Vascular Institute, Rita’s was a silent but very serious risk. He explained, “Her abdominal aortic aneurysm was asymptomatic [showing no symptoms], it was an enlargement of her artery and because it was enlarging significantly, there was a risk the artery wall could become very weak and rupture.”

Surgery was the only option to fix the aneurysm, and at her age, that could be risky, But if it ruptured, Rita would most certainly die. Living with that knowledge was a ticking time bomb she just couldn’t bear.

“I’d go to bed at night and wonder if I was going to wake up in the morning… I didn’t want to live with that worry all the time.”

Rita remembered, “I’d go to bed at night and wonder if I was going to wake up in the morning. It was really a worry. I didn’t want to live with that worry all the time.”

Her age was a concern, but after tests on her heart, lung and kidneys, Dr. Russell decided Rita was in good physical health and actually a good candidate for the surgery, which would fix the aneurysm and give Rita back her peace of mind.

“I think she’s the oldest person that we’ve ever done this kind of surgery on,” said Dr. Russell, who said the team approach helped with the potentially challenging case.

“I asked my partner, Dr. Paolini, to scrub in with me because two people combining forces would be quicker and the quicker we did her surgery the less stressful for her body it would be,” he said.

“We also have a great team here that’s dedicated to vascular surgery: the anesthesiologists, surgical team, nurses, techs and having that type of resource available makes it a little more comfortable to do the challenging or potentially challenging cases because you know you have great resources behind you.”

A month after surgery, Rita was back to many of her regular activities and sleeping much better at night knowing Dr. Russell fixed her aneurysm.

“He’s the greatest,” said Rita. “Like I told him one time after he’d done the surgery: “You saved my life–you’re one of my best friends.”

Dr. Russell said that while no one can predict the future, he thinks “she’s got a lot of good tomorrows.”

Rita’s family agrees. “The kids say I’ll live to be 100. My mother, she was close to 98 when she died and her brother was 99 so I could make it to 100.”