Raymond Ladner has endured occasional migraines and neck pain most of his life. A 50-foot fall from a ladder during a stint in the Navy left him hospitalized with a badly injured neck and painful bone spurs that developed decades later. But last summer, things got worrisome.
His headaches returned and wouldn’t go away. Then, he got off the elevator in his West View apartment building and walked straight into a wall. A short while later, he sat down to watch TV and realized his vision was blurred; he reached for the remote and fell to the floor.
“I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew something wasn’t right,” says Raymond, 70.
An initial emergency department visit didn’t detect anything, so he returned home. But symptoms persisted, convincing him to call off a cross-country road trip to visit an ailing brother in Colorado. His wife, Janet, called for an ambulance after he walked into the wall again, but he refused transport when paramedics said his vitals were normal.
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A week later, he finally agreed to go to the hospital. “I’ve lived with the man for 30 years. I knew something was wrong,” says Janet. “That headache just wasn’t going away, and he just wasn’t himself.”
At UPMC Passavant, an ultrasound revealed Raymond had a complete blockage of the carotid artery on one side of his neck and a partial blockage on the other. Often difficult to diagnose, it’s a condition that occurs when plaque buildup causes a narrowing in the carotid arteries — the main blood vessels in the neck supplying needed blood to the brain, neck, and face. In Raymond’s case, the blockages likely caused mini-strokes responsible for many of his symptoms, including numbness in his right arm.
“The doctors couldn’t believe I was alive,” Raymond says. “If I’d gone on that trip, I probably wouldn’t have made it halfway to Colorado before that artery blew.”
On Sept. 12, Raymond underwent a carotid endarterectomy performed by Georges E. Al-Khoury, MD, chief of vascular surgery at UPMC Passavant. During the procedure, the surgeon removed the plaque blocking the arteries to restore blood flow.
When he saw Dr. Al-Khoury again, Raymond shook his hand and thanked him.
“It blows my mind,” he says. “He didn’t know me from Adam, but he saved my life. And then, he goes on to the next patient like it’s no big deal. Dr. Al-Khoury is amazing.” Dr. Al-Khoury sees patients in McCandless, New Castle, Sewickley, and Altoona.
Raymond, who returned home the day after surgery, is slowly regaining strength. His symptoms are expected to improve steadily over the next few months. He is now taking medication to reduce his cholesterol and lower his blood pressure.
“I have a wonderful wife, two daughters, and four beautiful grandchildren. I’m taking things day by day,” says Raymond. “I feel it’s a miracle. I’m happy to be alive and I owe it all to Dr. Al-Khoury. He’s my hero.”
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