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Making the right call

One early fall evening, Janis’ typically busy day came to a screeching halt.
Janis is a 67-year-old retired high school teacher and librarian whose days consist of maintaining a 40-acre farm, splitting wood on her forest lot, raising 25 cattle, and carrying out endless chores alongside her devoted husband, Doug.

“I didn’t feel well. I told my husband, and he took one look at me and immediately called 9-1-1,” said Janis.

As the couple waited for the ambulance to arrive, Janis’ words became slurred and she passed out for a short time. Neither Janis nor Doug had any idea just how close she was to death. Even months later as she retells the story of her medical emergency, Janis’ voice is a mix of relief and disbelief.

Paramedics arrived at the farm and completed an electrocardiogram to monitor Janis’ heart before transporting her to Headwaters.  

“The paramedics were fantastic with their diagnostics and the questions they asked. My husband couldn’t come in the ambulance, so I was all alone. They let him know they would take care of me. Paramedics are special people,” continued Janis.

Now, it was a matter of figuring out what was wrong. It was a mystery.

Once in our Emergency Department, Dr. Richard Tang, moved quickly trying to solve the mystery. He knew time was not on their side and ordered several tests including a CAT Scan. Once the scan was done, he received an urgent call from the radiologist with the results and he knew immediately what was happening to Janis; she was having an aortic aneurysm, a balloon-like bulge in her aorta, that was leaking blood and about to rupture.

Dr. Tang worked through the night to assemble a team that could help Janis. Janis was going to need a highly skilled cardiac surgeon as well as an entire surgical team to support her.

“He did everything that needed to be done. If we had a different doctor, who didn’t know how to make the diagnosis?” Janis left the question unanswered and continued, “It takes a lot of experience to know what is going on; we were lucky to have Dr. Tang.”

Dr. Tang arranged for Janis to be airlifted by ambulance to Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, where she received open-heart surgery. Southlake staff confirmed that Janis was suffering from an aortic aneurysm caused by a significant tear in her heart from an undiagnosed birth defect.

“Every decision to be made, every referral, every minute - I was placed in the right care which made it possible for me to return home and recover,” said Janis.

Janis has received aftercare at Headwaters, and many members of her care team have commented on how she is nothing short of a miracle. To her delight, she was able to personally thank Dr. Tang over the phone.

“I remember the call with Janis. On rare occasions we get to hear from patients we help along the way, and this was one of them. I was grateful to know she was doing well and that I was able to help. We work as a team in healthcare, and just as much credit is owed to our excellent nursing staff, the radiologist and diagnostic imaging team, and critical care transport services in helping care for Janis,” recalled Dr. Tang.

Janis has returned to her version of retirement, almost. “I am not going back to the woodpile. I am not ready just yet, but otherwise its back to business as usual,” explains Janis, “It’s remarkable!”

We couldn’t agree more.

Photo caption: (left to right) Dr. Richard Tang, Emergency Department physician, with Janis, a patient who survived an aortic aneurysm under his care.