Rick's Story

Aortic Aneurysm Caught in the Nick of Time

UMP - image - Rick Christensen patient storyFate works in funny ways.

Just ask Rick, who learned he had a life-threatening aortic aneurysm after a chance meeting with a cardiologist from the University of Minnesota.

Diagnosed with congenital heart disease, Rick had open heart surgery in 2000 to repair a defective heart valve. For several years following the surgery, he regularly saw a heart specialist as a precaution—until the doctor told him he was stable and didn’t need to come back.

Fast forward to August 2012, when Rick attended a backyard barbecue in his former neighborhood. By chance, University of Minnesota Physicians cardiologist Dr. Kimara March, who had recently moved into Rick’s previous home, was out for a walk with her family. The party host invited her to join the party, where March and Rick met.

“He found out I was a cardiologist at the University and started talking about how he had open heart surgery before and had a valve replaced,” said March, who sees patients at the Adult Congenital and Cardiovascular Genetics Center at University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.

March learned Rick wasn’t currently seeing any specialists and suggested he visit her for a checkup.

“She said it might be a good idea for me to see somebody, because there are things that can occur, complications that can arise,” Rick said.

A few days later, Rick took her up on the offer. At a follow-up appointment, care providers discovered a portion of his aorta, just above his replacement valve, had ballooned out from 3.6 cm to more than 5 cm in width.

UMP - image - Rick Christensen pull quoteIf left unattended, Rick’s arterial walls would have grown weaker as the aneurysm expanded. Eventually, the walls would tear.

Aneurysms are known as a ‘silent killer,’ March said, because they don’t cause any patient symptoms. But if an aortic aneurysm bursts, the patient’s chance of survival falls to roughly 50 percent, March added.

Surgery was the only option, and on Nov. 20 Rick traveled to University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview. There, a care team replaced a portion of his aorta with synthetic material during an open heart surgery.

One year later, Rick is able to do 40-minute aerobic sessions and play golf. He is profoundly grateful for the care and support he received from his wife.
Rick also thinks often of the coincidences that led to his meeting with Dr. March.

“I don’t go to church a lot, but I am spiritual. I believe enough that I think everybody has their time, and somehow God just had more for me to do,” Rick said.

“It seems like things happen for a reason in a lot of ways,” March said. But Rick made a proactive decision, she added, when he chose to schedule an appointment with her.

“He also had to take a step—make a decision—to do something,” March said.


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