AFTER a letter landed on his doormat inviting him to attend the Southend University Hospital-led Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening Programme, 65-year old Tony Richards gladly took up the offer not realising just how important that decision was.
Having attended his appointment at a clinic held near to his home in Corringham, where he lives with his wife Sheila, and a few minutes later he had been given the momentous news.
“I was told I was the first person to be diagnosed with an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) as part of the NHS’ voluntary screening programme. Two technicians used an ultrasound machine to scan me. I thought I was quite healthy but they said that I had a sizeable aneurysm. Four days later I saw Mr Salter at Southend Hospital and he explained how life-threatening it can be.”
With Mr Richards’ well-being an absolute priority, he was quickly admitted to Southend Hospital, where he was told his aneurysm was suitable for two types of repair – traditional open surgery and the less invasive endovascular stenting technique. “My consultant, Mr Matthew Jakeways, explained everything very clearly and I agreed to have the keyhole procedure. I was in on Sunday, operated on Monday and out on Friday,” the self-employed decorator said, adding: “It was deemed a complete success. I had an excellent experience hospital. I didn’t even mind the food! Everyone was very dedicated and extremely professional. It was all really good.”
AAAs are most common in men aged 65 and over. They are caused when the aorta (the main artery in the abdomen) becomes weak and starts to expand. Around 6,000 people, mostly men aged 65 and over, die in England and Wales every year after large aneurysms rupture (burst). The NHS AAA Screening Programme aims to reduce deaths from ruptured aneurysms by up to 50% through early detection, effective monitoring and treatment. The screening test itself is a quick and simple ultrasound scan of the stomach, similar to that offered to women during pregnancy. Most men have a normal result and do not need to be seen again.
This screening service is part of a UK wide programme for men launched last year – Southend University Hospital provides the service for the whole of Essex after winning the bid to host it.
Aware of his good fortune and the potential seriousness of the condition, Tony advises men over 65 to take up this offer of free screening at the earliest opportunity: “40 people in over 1,000 will have this problem and it needs treating. You can go through life with an AAA until it ruptures – and then you’re dead. If they can find it early and prevent it, that’s a very good thing.”
Dr Matthew Tam, consultant interventional radiologist who oversees the scanning for the screening programme, and who inserted Mr Richards’ stents said: “Men who have an abdominal aortic aneurysm generally don’t experience any symptoms or change in their general health. But this is what makes screening so important.
“The test is simple, non-invasive and quick – usually taking less than 10 minutes. Early detection of AAA through screening enables us to offer monitoring or treatment, reducing potentially fatal outcomes, as we have demonstrated with Mr Richards. I hope he will be decorating for many years to come.”