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Published on February 02, 2021

Palmer family

Planet Heart Screening Detects an Aortic Aneurysm and Saves a Life

What are the chances that a couple would act on something they heard in polite conversation at a New Year’s Eve party? What are the chances it would save a life?

That’s how Brent and Melissa Palmer of Sioux Falls ended up signing up for a Planet Heart screening, saving Brent from a life-threatening aortic aneurysm.

“Probably the most fit man at this gathering was telling us his story that a Planet Heart screening had saved his life. They discovered that his carotid artery was almost completely blocked so they had him come in the next day for surgery,” Brent related.

Brent and Melissa PalmerBrent and Melissa Palmer

The Palmers, who would both be turning 40 in the coming year, decided they would act on this advice and schedule a Planet Heart screening for themselves. Originally scheduled in the spring, it was rescheduled for July due to the pandemic.

Avera offers two Planet Heart screenings. The cardiac screen includes a cardiac calcium CT scan and measures of blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol and blood sugar. The vascular screen includes an ultrasound screen of the carotid artery and aorta as well as an ankle brachial screen. Individuals can receive either test for $50 or both for $75. Included as well is a risk assessment and education from Avera’s expert cardiovascular team.

Shocking Diagnosis Leads to Open Heart Surgery

“Initially, we both passed with flying colors and felt really good when we left,” Brent said. But on the next Monday, he got a call from his primary care physician that the screening may have saved his life.

“He said, ‘you have an enormous aortic aneurysm,’” Brent said. This condition is an abnormal bulge in the wall of the aorta – the all-important artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This bulge can tear, burst or rupture without warning.

“It was pretty shocking,” Brent said. “I went from being healthy to needing open heart surgery.”

And what was shocking to family and friends was that Brent, a personal trainer who is healthy and helps other people achieve better health, hadn’t noticed any symptoms. “If someone as healthy as Brent could have something like that going on inside, it can happen to anyone,” Melissa said.

After his condition was diagnosed, Brent began noticing his lower energy levels and realized that something wasn’t right.

A Ticking Time Bomb

“Due to the size of the aneurysm, Brent needed a heart valve replacement. “The surgeon showed me the images, and it was worse than even the specialist had imagined,” Melissa said.

“Had we not gone in for this screening, there would have been a very different end to this year for me,” Brent said. “It was a ticking time bomb,” his wife agreed. Until the surgery could take place, she was always thinking about the closest emergency room, wherever they happened to be, in case the unthinkable happened.

For Melissa, whose screening turned up no problems or issues, her Planet Heart results gave her peace of mind that she’s on a good track in terms of her heart health.

Due to his condition, Brent’s heart was only operating at about 40% of its functionality. After his surgery, he began cardiac rehab at the Avera Heart Hospital. “I’m to the point where I’m feeling better than I did before surgery and I’m optimistic that I will continue to get better and have even more energy,” he said.

The Palmers, who are parents of two children ages 6 and 8, are grateful for the way things turned out. Both say they are a “walking PSA” for the Planet Heart screening. “It’s only $75 – why not? I wouldn’t be here today if not for Planet Heart,” Brent said.

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