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Dianna (Tracy) Bois often goes on walks, but there was one stroll in mid-2019 she'll never forget.
As the 70-year-old from Innisfil, Ont. was passing by a nearby lake, she began to feel light-headed. She quickly walked home, where her symptoms got worse. She soon started having trouble concentrating, but she was most concerned about the veins in her arms, which started to enlarge.
While at an appointment with a local physician for an unrelated health issue, Tracy asked about her veins and the doctor was concerned enough to send her for an MRI. She was shocked by the results: she was suffering from a potentially fatal aortic aneurysm.
An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the aorta (the artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body) that can be fatal should it rupture. These aneurysms often don't present symptoms until they're quite significant – by the time Tracy saw her physician, her aneurysm stretched from her heart down the entire length of her torso into her groin area, appearing as an elephant's trunk wrapped around the largest blood vessel in the body.
Most aortic aneurysms aren't difficult to treat, as they affect a small portion of the aorta, so clinicians at Tracy's nearby hospital thought they could easily take care of the problem. But once they realized the size and complexity of the aneurysm, which affected the entire length of the aorta from close to the heart to the leg vessels, including multiple branches to the brain and abdominal organs, they didn't think they could safely perform surgery.
For this complex procedure, she was referred to Dr. Jennifer Chung, an aortic surgeon in the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at UHN's Sprott Department of Surgery.
"I was discouraged, but once I met Dr. Chung I felt so confident in her," Tracy says. "She drew out exactly what was happening with my body like an artist, a Picasso.
"I had no doubt that she would be essential in getting me through this."