After Curbside Collapse and Copter Ride James McDermott Has Remarkable Outcome at Holmes Regional

By  //  June 25, 2021

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speedy lift from Health First’s First Flight had a lot to do with his amazing outcome

JAMES MCDERMOTT, above, of Melbourne, believes he survived a near-death experience to bring you this important message — if you feel like your heart is in your stomach, it may not be nerves. It may be an aortic aneurysm about to rupture. Seek help. (Health First image)

James McDermott collapsed on the grass outside a Baptist church. Fortunately, he was a few miles from the area’s Center of Excellence for aortic aneurysm repair at Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center. His outcome “defies statistics,” his surgeon says.

James McDermott of Melbourne believes he survived a near-death experience to bring you this important message — if you feel like your heart is in your stomach, it may not be nerves. It may be an aortic aneurysm about to rupture. Seek help.

In James’ case, an accomplished Health First vascular surgeon, Dr. Irfan Imami, and a speedy lift from Health First’s First Flight had a lot to do with his amazing outcome.

In early May, James was suffering from sharp pain in his lower abdomen near his kidneys that had been bothering him for hours. Eventually, James was overcome. He pulled into a church driveway, got out, moved to the grass and collapsed. He hardly remembers what happened next – only that he was surrounded by help.

James was moved by ambulance to a nearby Melbourne hospital, diagnosed and intubated. The hospital reached out to Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center, the area’s Center of Excellence for aortic aneurysm repair. James was about to go first-class on First Flight.

“The helicopter paramedics said they revived me twice,” James recalled. “They came to visit me in recovery. Apparently, I amazed them.”

Dr. Irfan Imami is a skilled vascular surgeon who handles many abdominal aortic ruptures. (Health First image)

“He was extremely unstable,” said Dr. Irfan Imami, a skilled vascular surgeon who handles many abdominal aortic ruptures.

He noted James’ systolic blood pressure was about 40 mm/Hg – well below what doctors consider low, 90 mm/Hg. (The top number in a blood pressure reading, systolic blood pressure, measures the force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries with each beat.

The bottom figure, diastolic, tracks the force between beats. A normal reading is about 120/80 mmHg.

Aortic aneurysm ruptures can be deadly. Most Americans who suffer one don’t make it to the operating room. Those who do are given about a 50-50 prognosis. In James’ case, “intubated, with blood pressure that low, and an aneurysm greater than 8 centimeters? Mortality is close to 100%.”

But some time ago, under the leadership of Steve Wright, Health First Vice President for Service Lines,   and the collaboration of clinicians like Dr. Imami, the Emergency Department developed a Code Rupture protocol that’s triggered by such a call.

Code Rupture notifies the helicopter, the Operating Room, the Blood Bank, Anesthesiology, Radiology and other units to prepare for a patient’s arrival so that the gurney is wheeled into an Operating Room that measures success in minutes, even seconds.

Dr. Imami and his team are “seasoned,” he says, in no small part because of the heavy volume of patients. Hospitals from Titusville to Sebastian send emergency cases on to Holmes Regional. 

Aortic aneurysm ruptures can be deadly. Most Americans who suffer one don’t make it to the operating room. Those who do are given about a 50-50 prognosis. (Health First image)

Dr. Imami installed an endovascular stent graft. Today, James has no long, jagged scar (the stent is inserted through a small hole in the groin), and, more importantly, no complications from the procedure. He does have a state-of-the-art bifurcated abdominal aortic stent – and a new appreciation for the miracle that is modern medicine.

“People asked me, ‘Did you see the light?’ No, no light,” James says. “But no dark. Nothing — as if nothing was waiting for me yet. I’ve got unfinished business, apparently.”

James is a painter who’s sold hundreds of works of art, ranging from a few hundred dollars to $3,500. He hopes to keep painting, continue his outreach work and spread the story of his life-saving surgery and miraculous recovery to anyone who will listen.

For the man born on Independence Day 66 years ago, he’ll be especially grateful this July 4.

“God bless America, right? You’re telling me.”

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