Patient Story: Living with an abdominal aortic aneurysm
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Patient Story: Living with an abdominal aortic aneurysm

"... and then it went black around him and he realized how he was slowly losing consciousness." What sounds like a sentence from a suspense novel is what John Walmsley actually experienced. He recalls Oct. 3, 2017, "I had a pain in my abdomen in the morning, then quickly got worse and worse. I then told my wife to call emergency services because I couldn't see anything. Everything went black, I started to pass out. At first I thought I had colic. I was still half aware that the ambulance service had carried me out. After that, though, it's all hearsay for me."

After John Walmsley received emergency care in Oranienburg, a rescue helicopter flew him to the Helios Hospital in Buch. The diagnosis: a previously unknown abdominal aortic aneurysm. His attending physician, PD Dr. med. Alexander Meyer, chief physician of vascular surgery, explains:

"This is a life-threatening clinical picture. About 50 percent of those affected die before they reach the hospital. Despite therapy, survival rates at the rupture stage are again at only 50 percent."

Thanks to an emergency operation in which the ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm could be eliminated by means of a stent prosthesis, John Walmsley was one of those 50 percent on that day. 

Seen a lot, experienced a lot: John Walmsley's amazing life and complicated medical story 

"I've always had a strong will to survive," is how the 64-year-old describes himself. A look at his life story confirms him. Born in Singapore as the son of a military man, John Walmsley grew up as a globetrotter together with his siblings. Eventually, the family landed in Münster - from where the then only 12-year-old made his way alone to Hamburg. "That is, after all, the gateway to the world, and from there I simply took a steamer. It didn't matter what kind of ship or where it was going. I didn't have any papers - the main thing was to get away," he says. The steamer took him to England, where an elderly couple took him in for a short time. But once again he was seized by the urge to be free. Hitchhiking, he finally reached London. In the metropolis on the Thames, he eked out a living as a newspaper vendor and found work in a missionary organization. "Later, I worked in a stationery store," he recalls and adds: "I was very lucky because I met many people in my life who helped me again and again."

In the meantime, this probably includes the doctors and nursing staff at the interdisciplinary vascular center at the Helios Hospital in Buch, who made it possible for him to continue his life in Birkenwerder, Brandenburg, together with his wife, as normally as possible under the circumstances. Until the summer of 2022. "I was in such unbearable pain by now, and my legs were rock hard on both sides," says John Walmsley, describing his condition at the time. Once again, the specialists from Buch's vascular surgery were on hand. PD Dr. med. Alexander Meyer looks back: "The stent kinked in the area of the pelvic artery, so that repairs had to be carried out several times before, also endovascularly, i.e. within a vessel. Due to the complete occlusion, this was now no longer possible." Buch's team of doctors explanted the stent prosthesis in a five-hour surgery and successfully replaced the main and pelvic arteries with a new vascular prosthesis (Y-prosthesis) to restore blood flow to both legs.

New lease on life - old mistakes: arguably one of the most important realizations of John Walmsley's life. 

After his last operation, a three-month stay in hospital and rehab, he found new courage to face life and flew to Hurghada in Egypt together with his wife shortly before Christmas last year. It was a vacation he was to keep in painful memory. "A reddish streak had formed on my abdomen. That scared me a lot," he recounts. But he still didn't want to cancel his time out in the sun and fought through to the end of his vacation. Back in Berlin, his team of doctors diagnosed an advanced infection in his groin. To prevent the infection from spreading to the vascular prosthesis, John Walmsley had to undergo surgery again. Although he recovered well, he came to a painful realization: "I made a mistake because I always ignored health checkups. Maybe I would have been saved a lot by early detection."

The fact that John Walmsley was able to recover well from the various interventions is also due to the good interdisciplinary cooperation at the Vascular Center of the Helios Hospital Berlin-Buch. "Given the severity of the clinical picture, Mr. Walmsley's recovery has been good," confirms PD Dr. med. Alexander Meyer and becomes even clearer: "He has already successfully jumped off the brink of death several times." So there it is again, John Walmsley's will to survive. After all, the 64-year-old still has a lot planned. He reveals, "We may want to fly to Cuba again. But not until the end of the year."

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