Going the Distance
With perhaps just two months to live, Emma Neubauer finds the courage to take a chance
Emma Neubauer nearly skipped having life-saving surgery.
The 88-year-old New Britain, Conn., resident was discouraged by the advice she got last fall at a hospital near her home about repairing her thoracic aneurysm.
"The doctor said it would be a very hard operation for me — very hard on me because of my age — so I backed out," Mrs. Neubauer recalls.
Fortunately, her med-student granddaughter had other ideas. Monica Jacobus, who started her residency in general surgery in Chicago this month, and her father went online in search of doctors who do endovascular repair. An alternative to open surgical repair, endovascular surgery involves making incisions into the groin area and threading stent-grafts up through the arteries to the diseased portion of the aorta.
Their search led them to cardiac surgeon Eric Roselli, MD, at Cleveland Clinic.
After evaluating Mrs. Neubauer, Dr. Roselli decided against going the endovascular route.
"He thought open surgery would do a better job for her," Ms. Jacobus said. "His skill and confidence really allowed her to understand that this was a good idea for her and she would have a lot more years of a healthy, happy life if she was willing to go through with it."
Without the surgery, Dr. Roselli estimates she had only two months to live.
So Mrs. Neubauer underwent the aortic repair at Cleveland Clinic on Dec. 18, 2008, spending the holidays in the hospital and her birthday in rehab. But she couldn't be happier with her ultimate decision.
"Last week, I was there for a checkup and Dr. Roselli was very pleased with the outcome, and he would like to see me in a year from now," she says.
"He's a wonderful doctor. He saved my life. I gave him big hug. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here today."
Of course, she also credits her caring family.
"I was ready to give up on life itself, but my granddaughter would not hear of it," she says.
Ms. Jacobus insists that she didn't want to push her grandmother to do one thing or another, only to get her enough information to make an informed judgment. She also wanted to get a second opinion, from someone who would see beyond her grandmother's age.
"She's 88. I think a lot of people would have made a decision just looking at that number and say she's not a surgical candidate," Ms. Jacobus says. "But Dr. Roselli was actually willing to look at her. For an 88-year-old, she's really healthy.”