Columbus woman first to receive two-procedure heart surgery

A heart procedure saves the life of Columbus, Miss. resident.

Lucy Phillips of Columbus, Miss., owes her life to a lady who ran a red light 10 years ago. A CAT scan following that traffic accident showed she had a broken collar bone. “And,” the ER doctor added, “Your aneurysm is OK.” Her response: “What aneurysm?”

Lucy said she was “shocked and surprised” to hear that she had a weakness in the wall of the ascending aortic artery in her heart, which, according to the doctor, she had been living with for about 10 years.

“It was small so he told me to just keep a check on the size.” Depending on the patient and their symptoms, doctors usually recommend repair of the artery when the aneurysm reaches around five centimeters. Lucy designated her birthday as a reminder to have the aneurysm checked each year.

By fall 2016 the aneurysm had grown to 5.4 centimeters, and she learned that she also had a faulty aortic valve that was contributing to the growth of the aneurysm. She was referred to Baptist Golden Triangle cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Hector Dox, who recommended surgery. Dr. Dox joined Golden Triangle Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery in Columbus in July 2016.

She needed the aneurysm repaired and the valve replaced soon. The combined procedure is a fairly common one that Dr. Dox has performed 200 to 300 times in his career, but it had never been done at Baptist Golden Triangle. Those patients have traditionally been transferred to a larger hospital.

“I told her it needed to be done. She didn’t have to have it done here. But she had to have it done somewhere,” Dr. Dox said.

An aneurysm is called a “silent killer.” Like Lucy, most people don’t even know they have one until it is too late. The ascending aorta is the main artery that takes blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The most common symptom is chest pain, but by that time, the artery is most likely leaking or may have even ruptured. At that point, your chances of survival are very slim, Dr. Dox said.

After first meeting Dr. Dox, Lucy said she was so impressed that she had no hesitation in agreeing to let him perform the operation. “He was so earnest and gave me such confidence,” she said. “I was so impressed with his qualifications, knowledge and expertise. After consultation and prayerful thought with Dr. Dox, I felt there was no reason for me to go anywhere else. I made my decision and didn’t look back,” she added.

In surgery, Dr. Dox found that Lucy’s aneurysm had actually grown to 5.8 centimeters. She was on the heart bypass machine for a little more than two hours of the four-and-a-half-hour surgery.

Lucy returned home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family. Dr. Dox said she was a smart patient because she asked the right questions and knows now what she needs to do to stay healthy.

“I feel very blessed and honored to have Dr. Dox take care of me. I feel good, and I’m excited about 2017. I have a whole new lease on life. God has plans for me. I don’t know what they are, but I do know I’m not done yet.”