Jon Dorenbos and I have something in common besides the fact that we’re both good-looking guys who are married to stunningly beautiful women.
Both of us also have aortic aneurysms.
Jon’s is quite a bit more serious than mine. The former Eagles long-snapper, who was traded to the New Orleans Saints on August 28, needs surgery to repair the damage to his aorta.
Saints officials say that if doctors hadn’t discovered the aneurysm and he had played in the team’s season-opener Monday night against the Vikings, he very likely could have died.
Dorenbos, 37, who spent 11 seasons with the Eagles, has almost certainly played his last football game. But once they repair the tear to his aorta, he should be just fine as far as being able to lead a normal life goes.
My aneurysm is considerably smaller than Dorenbos’. My cardiologist, Dr. George Mark, of the Heart House in Haddon Heights, N.J., discovered it a couple of years ago on an echo Doppler ultrasound, which is similar to the ultrasound that takes pictures of the fetus in pregnant women, except this one takes pictures of the blood flow through your arteries and heart. It likely is the same test that spotted Dorenbos’ aneurysm.
Mark is a terrific doctor and a great guy, but I’ve always been a little suspicious of him. He’s a rabid Eagles season-ticketholder who has an Eagles-green RV that he uses for tailgating in the Wells Fargo Center parking lot.
I still remember when he called to tell me about the aneurysm. I was in the press room at the Linc before an Eagles pre-season game. When I saw his name on my iPhone, I thought he was calling to get my prediction for the season. Instead, he was calling to talk about my heart.
He said the echo Doppler showed that my aorta, which is the main blood vessel to the heart, had increased in size. Not a lot, but it was bigger than it had been.
“When we saw your’s was a little big, we ordered a CAT scan because it’s a better way to see it in its entirety from the start to finish of it,’’ Mark said. “Whereas with the echo ultrasound, you can only see the very beginning right where the aorta comes out of the heart.’’
The CAT scan confirmed what he saw on the echo Doppler. The aorta was slightly enlarged, but it wasn’t big enough to be concerned about. He gave me the numbers in centimeters of what is considered in the don’t-worry-be-happy range and what is in the we’ve-gotta-get-you-to-a-freaking-hospital-now range. I was still in the don’t-worry-be-happy range.
I get an echo Doppler once a year now, and thankfully, the aneurysm has stayed in the don’t-worry-be-happy range. That could be the case for the rest of my life, or it could get bigger at some point. In which case I would have to have the same surgery as Dorenbos.
For now at least, life is good. I have no restrictions. I can’t play basketball anymore, which kills me. But that’s because of two hip replacements surgeries, not the aneurysm.
I work out as hard as I ever have. I lift. I feel better than I did 20 years ago, except for the arthritis in my back.
Then again, so does Dorenbos. So did actors John Ritter and Alan Thicke, who both died from aortic aneurysms; Thicke after playing hockey.
“The hard part is aortic aneurysms don’t give people any symptoms until something really bad happens,’’ Mark said. “John Ritter is a good example of that.
“He had chest pain that brought him to the hospital. But that was after the aneurysm already had torn. The blood vessel tore and it tore in a way that it affected the blood flow to his heart and they thought he had had a heart attack. They took him to the operating room to put a stent in him and found that his whole aorta had torn.’’
Dorenbos played in the Eagles’ first three preseason games this summer and had no problems, even though he likely already had the aneurysm. He played in the Saints’ final preseason game last Thursday against the Ravens. Again, no problems.
His aneurysm was discovered in a follow-up physical with the Saints, more than a week after he passed the club’s initial physical. It’s not known what precipitated the additional testing that found the aneurysm.
The two tests that can most easily find an aortic aneurysm – an echo Doppler ultrasound and a CAT Scan – typically are not part of the standard physical given to players by NFL teams.
Dorenbos had a heart murmur that the Eagles have been aware of for at least five years, according to an NFL source.
If the Eagles were the ones who discovered the murmur, Mark, who is not affiliated with the Eagles, said they almost certainly would have done further tests on Dorenbos, including, in all likelihood, an echo Doppler, which would have spotted an aneurysm.
“I can’t imagine anyone not getting an echo for a murmur,’’ Mark said.
He said that if the murmur was determined to be benign and there was no sign of any other irregularities, including an aortic aneurysm, there really wouldn’t have been any reason for the Eagles to regularly test Dorenbos for heart problems.
“It’s not like we do routine echos on 37-year-olds,’’ he said. “And it definitely, definitely is not part of a routine sports physical.
“Murmurs are investigated to make sure there isn’t a significant valve problem. But if that investigation turns out to benign, there wouldn’t necessarily be any reason to repeat that (test) over time. I guess it would depend on what that first echo might’ve shown if they did it.’’