Richland doctor hopes to ID silent killer via free screenings

RICHLAND — Tim Anderson said his father never knew he was at risk for the abdominal aortic aneurysm that ruptured on New Year's Day and sent 81-year-old Don Anderson into emergency surgery and then intensive care.

The only risk factor -- other than being a man over 60 -- was nearly a lifetime of high blood pressure that was controlled through medication.

"It certainly is something that is kind of a silent killer," Tim Anderson said.

But a Richland vascular surgeon says it doesn't have to be a killer if the condition is caught with a screening.

Dr. Esteban Ambrad-Chalela will offer free ultrasound screenings Jan. 29 at his office with the hope of catching someone else's aneurysm before it ruptures.

When detected before rupturing, the vast majority of abdominal aortic aneurysms can be managed or treated with surgery. But if an aneurysm isn't detected and it ruptures, only 10 percent to 25 percent of people survive, Ambrad-Chalela said.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm happens when the large blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs balloons outward, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

Risk factors include a history of smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, emphysema, obesity and genetic factors.

It also tends to be more common in men over 60 -- for whom it is the third leading cause of death -- than for younger men or women.

People with abdominal aortic aneurysms tend not to have any symptoms until the blood vessel ruptures from expanding too rapidly or starts to leak blood along the vessel's wall.

One symptom of a rupture is pain in the back or abdomen that also may radiate to the groin, buttocks or legs. Pain can be severe, sudden, consistent or persistent, the National Library of Medicine says.

Other symptoms include clammy skin, nausea, vomiting, rapid heart rate and shock.

Tim Anderson said his father, who is superintendent of the Star School District in rural Franklin County, experienced back pain as the symptom of his rupture.

Ibuprofen and rest didn't help, so Don Anderson went to the emergency room at Kennewick General Hospital. Doctors at first thought he might have a kidney stone, but then he passed out in a chair in the ER.

Tim Anderson said hospital staff performed a CT scan, and spotted the aneurysm. His father was rushed into surgery.

On Wednesday, Don Anderson remained on a ventilator but was "coming out of the fog," and his family was hopeful he will make a recovery.

"He's not out of the woods yet," Tim Anderson said.

Ambrad-Chalela said family history also can be a risk factor for abdominal aortic aneurysm, and men with a family history should consider being screened.

"It is treatable if diagnosed," Ambrad-Chalela said. "Screening is very important because at least the patient will know they have one. ... It is so simple and cheap (to be screened)."

Tim Anderson said now that his father has had an abdominal aortic aneurysm, he will definitely get screened himself. "I'm going to talk to my doctor," he said.

To schedule an appointment for one of the free screenings, call Ambrad-Chalela's office at 946-9707.