Lanette’s emergency heart surgery at Ascension Saint Joseph - Joliet has given her 11 more years — and counting — with her family.
Lanette looked like a healthy 48-year-old. But she had a very high-stress lifestyle. She worked 50 to 60 hours a week in her dental practice. She didn’t eat healthy foods. She had long-term high blood pressure, which was untreated. She didn’t even have a primary care physician.
“Maybe I looked healthy, but I wasn’t doing the right things for my body,” she said.
In March 2010, over a weekend that included an 18-hour roundtrip drive to Michigan, the stress and unhealthy lifestyle choices caught up with her. She started feeling sick, thinking it was hypertension or heartburn. When she got home from her trip, she took a day off work to rest. But by 3 a.m. the next morning, she was so sick her husband took her to the Emergency Room (ER) at Ascension Saint Joseph - Joliet.
An X-ray didn’t show anything out of the ordinary. Suspecting something was wrong, though, the ER physician ordered a CT scan. It revealed an aneurysm, or bulge, in her body’s largest blood vessel, the aorta. The aneurysm had caused a tear in the wall of the aorta — a condition that could cause sudden death.
With Life on the Line, Emergency Surgery Done
Lanette’s life was on the line, and Rudy Altergott, MD, who had just gotten out of another surgery, agreed to stay to perform her surgery immediately.
“I asked if I could see my son. Because it didn’t sound like I was going to live,” Lanette said, the memory even 11 years later stirring tears. “He told me there wasn’t time. He was really, really upset, too. But he told me he would do everything he could to get me through it.”
That’s the last thing she remembers. The clinical team at Ascension Saint Joseph - Joliet sedated her and took her immediately into a seven-hour surgery.
“Somehow, they saved my life,” she said.
“I was very lucky.”
During Lanette’s surgery, Dr. Altergott and the cardiac team had to remove her heart from her body and put her on bypass to insert a graft, a tube that sealed with the artery above and below the aneurysm to allow blood to flow through without putting additional pressure on the bulge.
“It’s unbelievable what they did,” Lanette said. “The whole team from the emergency room to the cardiac team to the nurses to the ICU to the cardiac rehab. I got the best care I could ever have asked for.”
When she woke up after surgery, she said she remembers being in a lot of pain. She remembers numerous tubes coming out of her body. And she remembers she got to see her son right away.
“I was just so happy to be alive that it didn’t matter how much pain I had,” she said. “I was just relieved that somehow I woke up. I was very lucky. I’m in a very small percentage that actually make it through that surgery.”
Unparalleled Cardiac Care Close to Home — Then and Now
Although Lanette didn’t have a primary care physician at the time, she said she knew when her husband was taking her to the ER that they would go to Ascension Saint Joseph - Joliet. It was close to their house, and the reputation of its cardiac program was unparalleled.
“There was no question. I wouldn’t go anywhere else. It’s all top-notch. It was just excellent,” she said.
She’s grateful they made the choice they did and for every person who took care of her, from the ER physician who ordered the CT scan to the surgical team to the team that supported her during her cardiac rehabilitation.
After her surgery, Lanette started taking better care of herself. She watches her sodium intake, takes her medication, exercises and eats healthy. She keeps her stress levels down.
“And here I am 11 years later still alive and — knock on wood — I haven’t had any complications,” she said. “I pretty much owe my life to the whole Saint Joe’s team. Everybody. I owe it all to Dr. Altergott, the ER doctor and all the wonderful nurses involved. Thank God that I’m alive. Thank God for Dr. Altergott and the ER and cardiac teams.”