Elliot was suffering from an aortic dissection. This serious heart condition results from a small tear in the inner wall of the aorta, causing blood to flow between the layers of the wall of the aorta and force the layers apart. If the dissection tears the aorta completely open (through all three layers), immense and rapid blood loss occurs.
Emergency Heart SurgeryAfter being rushed to a local hospital, it was determined that he needed emergency heart surgery. He was transferred to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).
At HUP, Joseph Bavaria, MD, vice chief, Division of Cardiovascular Surgery and director, Thoracic Aortic Surgery Program, performed an open-heart procedure to have Gordon’s torn aorta removed and replaced with a synthetic graft.
"He needed an urgent intervention and the surgery itself is high risk," says Dr. Bavaria. "Half of patients suffering from an aortic dissection die before they even reach the hospital."
Thankfully for Gordon, Dr. Bavaria and the HUP OR team have extensive experience in complex aortic surgeries, with outcomes ranking among the best in the nation. After being rushed from the emergency transport, he was taken directly to the OR, where Dr. Bavaria and his team were able to accurately assess the situation and begin the operation.
His heart was in good handsDespite the grim odds, after several hours in surgery, he was transferred to the Heart & Vascular Intensive Care Unit to recover.
“The surgeons said I survived because my body was in such good shape. Had I not been training for Boston, I would have died.”
Gordon was not out of the woods yet. His recovery was difficult; he was on dialysis for about six months. Fortunately for Gordon, he was being cared for by a highly skilled, multidisciplinary team lead by cardiovascular surgery anesthesia intensivists, and received around-the-clock comprehensive care.
After a month and a half in the hospital, he was released in May 2009. He was 25 pounds lighter and because he was already so lean from decades of running, there wasn’t much fat to lose in the first place. The loss was all muscle -- he couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t stand, couldn’t walk.
Heart Healthy and Running AgainHe was given the okay to try light running again after six months, but it took over a year before he was finally able to jog slowly. In his first attempts back on a treadmill, he had many difficulties. But he was determined to get back to the sport he so loved and had dedicated decades of his life to.
On November 20, 2010 he ran his first “return” 8k since the operation. A year later, on November 12, 2011, he ran a 12k race. And in November 2012, Elliot signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon to run the half marathon. “Not very many people could, or would even attempt, to run a half marathon after this type of procedure,” says Dr. Bavaria. “His surgery went so well that it enabled him to keep going with his running. He really is a miracle man.”