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“McLaren Bay Region Saved My Life.” - Mrs. Lisa Berra, Bay City

Published on Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mrs. Lisa Berra, Bay City
Ruptured AAA Survivor

Mrs. Lisa Berra is a popular dance and gymnastics instructor at Bay Valley Gymnastics and Dance in Bay City. She was busily preparing for her 40th recital. But on the morning of Friday, June 3, 2016, Lisa had no idea how her life would change that very afternoon.

Unbeknownst to her, Lisa had an “AAA” – also known as an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, which meant that one of the large blood vessels that supplies blood to her abdomen and lower body swelled up and bulged. These aneurysms can develop slowly over many years, often with no symptoms. Symptoms may come on quickly if the aneurysm expands rapidly, tears open or leaks blood within the wall of the vessel (aortic dissection). Lisa’s AAA had become so large – 8.5 centimeters (approximately 3.35 inches) – that it was rupturing. (Surgical repair is recommended for AAA the size of 5-5.5 cm.)

A ruptured AAA normally has a greater than 70% mortality rate. When Lisa arrived at McLaren Bay Region’s Emergency Department, she was in shock and dying…


On Friday, June 3 at 3:45 p.m. Lisa went to the bank with her husband and granddaughters.  While at the bank, her back started hurting “really bad.” The pain increased so much that Lisa said she had to sit on the curb and could barely move.

Lisa’s husband, Patrick, helped her into the car. “I thought it was a kidney stone,” Lisa said. When she arrived home, she went to bed, but then the decision was made to take her to the Emergency Department at McLaren Bay Region.

“We arrived at the Emergency Department at 5:45 p.m.,” Lisa recalls. “They got me into a wheelchair and then they worked very fast. Kerwin Farmer, DO, was the emergency physician who took care of Lisa that evening.  “He was great,” Lisa said. “The nurses (Amanda Beam, RN and Kelly Kortz, RN) were also very gentle and really nice.”

According to Lisa and Patrick, Dr. Farmer ordered that a CT scan be taken. The test showed that she was bleeding very badly. A contrast image revealed that the cause was a ruptured AAA.

Patrick said, “What I liked about the Emergency Department at McLaren Bay Region was that Dr. Farmer was straightforward – he told me exactly what was going on and I appreciated that.”

“What was amazing that once the decision was made that this was serious, the Operating Room (OR) had to be reopened, the surgeon was on the way (to the hospital) -- and they were moving her and then he (the surgeon) got there,” Patrick recalled. “They were going to save her -- and they did it!”

Axel Thors, DO, Vascular Surgeon at McLaren Bay Heart & Vascular, was the vascular surgeon on call that evening. When he received the call from the Emergency Department, he immediately left for the hospital. He and his staff had Lisa in surgery at McLaren Bay Region by 8 p.m. 

They were putting wires on me on the way to surgery,” Lisa said. “They were hooking me up to monitors and everything on the way up (in the elevator) and talking about cutting my clothes off – and I didn’t care.”

Dr. Thors fixed the AAA by performing a Percutaneous Endovascular Repair using a minimally invasive technique. “I told Dr. Thors that he saved my life and I am very thankful,” Lisa said.

After surgery, Lisa was taken to McLaren Bay Region’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for recovery and stayed there for four days. “I had THE best care,” she said. “They checked on me – they were right on top of their game.” Lisa’s husband and daughter were incredibly pleased at the level of care she received.

Lisa’s next inpatient experience was on the 5th floor – cardiac stepdown. "My experience was very good on the 5th floor – Jenny, Patty, Libby, Ryan, Carly – they were all very helpful. The lady (from Nutritional Services) who brought the food was awesome – very bubbly and upbeat. Room cleanliness – no complaints. They even had a recliner so my husband could sleep in the room with me. Very soothing.”

’m very thankful for everybody here at McLaren Bay Region. Because if they hadn’t moved that fast, I don’t know what would have happened. I just want to thank Dr. Thors and his team. I can’t say enough. Very appreciative!”

Anyone age 65 or older, with a family history of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) and a history of smoking should be screened for AAA with an aortic ultrasound, which is usually covered by Medicare. Anyone with strong risk factors including smoking, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, or diabetes should be evaluated by a vascular specialist. AAAs should be fixed when they reach 5-5.5 cm. Your primary care physician or a vascular specialist can refer a patient to receive an aortic ultrasound, which is performed by a registered vascular technologist (RVT) in an accredited vascular lab.

McLaren Bay Region Vascular Lab located in Bay City, MI has been granted a three-year term of accreditation in Vascular Testing in the areas of Extracranial Cerebrovascular Testing, Peripheral Arterial Testing, and Visceral Vascular Testing by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC). Additionally, McLaren Bay Heart and Vascular West Branch located in West Branch, MI has been granted a three-year term of accreditation in Vascular Testing in the areas of Extracranial Cerebrovascular Testing and Peripheral Arterial Testing by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC).