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Check Up 13: Abdominal aortic aneurysms and the importance of trivascular screenings

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is an enlarged area in the lower part of the major vessel that supplies blood to the body.

INDIANAPOLIS — Ira McKay, 77, spends most days working on the five-acre Madison County farm he shares with his fiancé, Barbara Bowman-Johnson. 

He's enjoyed a life free of health concerns and has a zest for life.

"I'd rather burn out then rust out," McKay said.

He says he felt fine, and was symptom-free, when he accepted Bowman-Johnson's invitation to get a trivascular screening at her church.

The surprising result detected a serious health threat, five abdominal aortic aneurysms, or AAA.

An AAA is an enlarged area in the lower part of the major vessel that supplies blood to the body. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body so a ruptured AAA could cause life-threatening bleeding.

"I'm just tickled to death (that) I went with her that day," McKay said. "I might be in the ground right now instead of talking to, you know, because... you don't know what if it's going to rupture... you've got no idea, especially if you don't know you got it."

Treatment for AAA varies from watchful waiting to surgery depending on the size of the aneurysm.

Vascular surgeon Dr. Sarah Strot at Ascension St. Vincent opted for four stents to treat McKay.

Now, he's back on the farm doing everything he did before. It's hard for him to comprehend how sick he was, since he was symtpom-free.

"It's just it's easier to catch the stuff early and do something with it than wait around," Bowman-Johnson said.

McKay's age and longtime smoking history put him at a higher risk. 

"There are no symptoms, so you don't know. And if what I'm going to if it ruptures, my chances of making it to a hospital from anywhere is like zero to none," McKay said.

Now McKay and Bowman-Johnson are focusing on the future. They're planning a backyard wedding and are grateful a routine screening increased their odds of more time as husband and wife.

"I'm looking forward to however how many years we got left together," McKay said.

The Trivascular Screening is the Check Up 13 emphasis this month at Ascension St. Vincent for Indiana residents 55 and older with qualifying risk factors.  

Click here to learn more.

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