Hospital back scan saves OAP’s life

A PENSIONER ricked his back when moving a settee – and saved his life after being sent for a scan by staff at Ilkeston Community Hospital.

Al Townsend, 84, was left in agony and was treated for back pain at the hospital.

But when it failed to ease after a few weeks, staff ordered a body scan for the retired lorry driver and father-of-six.

And that revealed an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a dangerous weakness in the major vessel taking blood from the heart.

The repair took four hours of specialist surgery at the Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, where experts used keyhole surgery to fit a polyester lining to fortify the weak area. He needed ten hours in recovery and later had a second operation to plug a leak.

Mr Townsend, of Blackwell Avenue, Cotmanhay, said: “The specialist told me ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is your back is healing. The bad news is you have an aneurysm’.

“It could have gone at any time and he said I was a walking time bomb. It could have burst at any time and I would have died.

“I know people complain about the NHS but I was more than happy with the brilliant way I was looked after.

The aneurysm was nearly four inches wide, close to the upper limit for the condition, which is usually fatal if the weak spot breaks.

Shane MacSweeney, a consultant vascular surgeon at the QMC, said: “The wall gets weaker over many years and it was pure chance this one was discovered.

“There was a big chance it could have burst and that would probably have killed him,” said Mr MacSweeney, who has carried out hundreds of life-saving operations.

He said the condition can be detected by ultrasound scans but these are not yet routinely available in this region.

Mr MacSweeney added: “If we had an aneurysm screening programme and people were scanned once on their 65th birthday, we would be able to find aneurysms and monitor them until action was needed.

“If people reach the age of 65 and do not have an aneurysm, they are unlikely to develop one.”

The QMC was among the first units to repair aneurysms by using keyhole surgery, passing the sleeve up a blood vessel from the groin, then inflating it when it reaches the weakened part of the aorta. This avoids major abdominal surgery and is now used across much of the world.

His grandson Mark Ward, 30, was helping him to move the settee so repairs could be carried out to cracks in the walls at their rented home. Workers said they were unable to give a hand with the furniture.

Mr Townsend said: “All of a sudden, I was doubled up in pain and was on my knees but I am glad about it now.

“Nurses checked me and said ‘you have pulled a muscle.’ But after I was treated for that and it didn’t clear up, they got me an MRI scan pretty quick.”