In mid-October 2012, 60-year-old retired educator, part-time auctioneer and 15-year mayor of Pollock, Jerome, awoke in the middle of the night with a ripping pain in his back.
“I felt stabbing, tearing pain in my back that pierced through my chest and was more intense when I took a breath,” Jerome says. “It was the worst pain I had ever experienced. I assumed I was having a heart attack, but I later learned that my aortic walls were starting to rip. I couldn’t talk or even move my arms to wake my wife, Patricia, who was sleeping next to me. All I could do was whisper, ‘Wake up,’ and gently tap her.”
When Patricia woke, she immediately called 911. In the midst of gripping pain and a painful numbness in his right leg, Jerome gained the ability to talk a little. “I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Jerome says. “I told my wife goodbye and that I loved her. In the ambulance, I kept trying to change positions to ease the pain if possible, but there wasn’t enough blood being pumped to my leg. The paramedics told me I had to be very still. I heard them say, ‘Step on it. His pressure is going down."
Action on Arrival
As soon as Jerome arrived at the emergency department, he was taken into surgery by R. Chance DeWitt, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon at CHRISTUS St. Frances Cabrini Hospital.
“Dr. DeWitt was a godsend,” Jerome says. “He’s a faithful man, and I was very calm as I was going in for surgery. According to Dr. DeWitt, my valve was mush the size of a soup can. Nurses came out to talk to my family and told them, ‘We’re doing all we can; it doesn’t look good, but we’re working with him.’”
After nine grueling hours, with Jerome’s family and friends on the edges of their seats, the doctor and nurses came out to talk with his family. “They built me a new aorta and replaced my aortic valve with a titanium implant,” Jerome says. “The team said it was a miracle that I was alive because fewer than 5 percent of people whose aorta ruptures survive.”
Though Jerome survived the surgery, he wasn’t fully in the clear just yet. “After surgery, there was no pulse in my right leg,” he says. “If the staff at CHRISTUS Cabrini couldn’t find a pulse in my leg by the following morning, they would have to amputate it. When the next morning rolled around, my wife’s first question was, ‘Does he get to keep his leg?’”
Fortunately, the blood flow to Jerome’s leg had increased, and that morning the pulse had returned. Jerome stayed only a day or two in the ICU, where the nurses were reassuring and positive. “I knew I was either going to get better or I wasn’t,” Jerome says. “When I was out of the ICU, I got up and moving as soon as I could.”
A New Lease on Life
Since the surgery, Jerome is back on the job as mayor and still works as an auctioneer on Fridays. He gets fatigued quicker than he used to and might forget a word at the podium, but his life is back
to normal. Jerome takes a regimen of Coumadin to reduce his risk for a blood clot. When he returns to CHRISTUS Cabrini, they say “here comes the miracle guy.” Jerome agrees, attributing the miracle to the man upstairs.
“I always tell people if you ever question that there is a God, look at me,” he says. “I’m here today because of God and Dr. DeWitt’s God-given abilities. Dr. DeWitt and the nurses at CHRISTUS Cabrini were exceptional. I trust them with my life.”