Jason Philpot's Why
Jason ad Brandi Philpot with their children Grey (2) and Carla (10)
Jason Philpot of Marietta, Georgia, was 37 years old, a husband and father of two, when he went in for a routine checkup in 2012. His doctor listened to his heart and asked if he was aware that he had a heart murmur. She suggested he visit a cardiologist. At the time, he was working in oncology as a field service support staff member for a well-known company. “I very much enjoyed that career,” he said.
The Philpots didn’t take the heart murmur that seriously “because we didn’t see any signs of it causing any problems,” said Brandi, Jason’s wife of seven years.
It didn’t take long for that to change. “Within four months things went downhill quickly,” Jason said. He had a series of major complications over the next few years: a pacemaker was implanted; his heart valves began leaking seriously; he had two open-heart surgeries; and then there was the aneurysm, which was found in 2014 and grew from about the size of a peanut to the size of a watermelon in just a few months.
“Looking at images of his chest, all you could see was this huge pulsating mass in the front of his ribs,” said interventional cardiologist Mustafa Ahmed.
“Every time my heart beat, it felt like it was jumping out of my chest,” Jason said.
“It’s scary to see such movement, especially knowing that it shouldn’t be happening! Then the question becomes, can something be done to stop it without another open-heart procedure? Meanwhile, I could see the growing concern and fear within Brandi. With such a young family, I knew she was wondering, what’s next for us?”
Without an operation to remove the aneurysm, Jason would almost certainly die. Yet removing it was not without risks, and surgical options were complicated by the fact that the Philpots are members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith, which does not allow blood transfusions. Removing so large a mass without losing a lot of blood seemed impossible.
Brandi was terrified of losing her husband, who by then had to take medical retirement from his job. Ahmed wracked his brain for a solution. He assured Brandi that he would do whatever he could, telling her that given the size of the aneurysm and the no-transfusion restriction that whatever they tried would be a “Hail Mary.”
The procedure that Ahmed proposed was to run a catheter into the aneurysm and then fill it up with coils of metal. This procedure, called coil embolization, is most often used in treating brain aneurysms. A catheter is threaded to the site of the aneurysm and then the coils are inserted through the catheter into the aneurysm. The coils fill the cavity of the aneurysm and block blood flow into it, preventing it from rupturing or leaking. It is a delicate procedure that can take hours even with much smaller aneurysms than Jason’s.
Jason was intrigued by the embolization process, but his aneurysm was huge. Filling such a large cavity with coils had never been done before. It would be neither quick nor easy. But he did not hesitate and immediately agreed to the procedure. “When are we doing it?” he asked as soon as Ahmed suggested it.
The procedure, done in a cath lab, took 21 hours. “We wanted to fix the entire aneurysm,” Ahmed said. “By the end, that thing was so densely packed, full of more coils than anyone’s ever heard of, and we were very satisfied that a clot would form and take out the entire thing — we were confident of that. If not, we would have gone another 12 hours. I would have done whatever it took.”
Brandi is grateful for Ahmed’s determination to find a solution: “He took a risk on my husband when no one else would, and he saved Jason’s life. I am so thankful for that.”
“When I woke up, I was ecstatic,” Jason said. “The fact that I could open my eyes, see my family, hear my family, even touch myself and say, ‘Hey, you’re alive!’”
The coil-filled aneurysm is still inside his chest and there are no plans to remove it. “Dr. Ahmed said that could result in instant death. I am carefully monitored through regular imaging and follow-up visits with him.”
Surviving such a life-threatening event has changed Jason. “I see every day as a precious gift to see my family continue to grow. I was living on borrowed time,” Jason said. “The smiling faces of my family and friends are why!”
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