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Lifelong Athlete Survives Unexpected Aortic Aneurysm with Lifesaving Cardiac Surgery

John Tegan was the picture of health when he received news that he would need cardiac surgery for an unexpected heart condition.
John Tegan with his rescue dog Lola in fall nature
John Tegan with his rescue dog Lola.

John Tegan was an athlete all his life and prioritized intense strength training and cardio workouts into his 60s. But during a routine checkup in May 2021, his primary care provider told him something wasn’t right with his heart.

“I just remember telling my doctor that it couldn’t be true,” Tegan says. “I exercise every single day, bike 20-30 miles several times a week, go on hikes and row … I’ve never had any issues with my heart in my life, and I’ve never had any symptoms.”

His primary care provider found a heart murmur and promptly scheduled an echocardiogram, which revealed a large ascending aortic aneurysm, a bulge in the large artery threatening to rupture. His doctors found that the root cause was Tegan’s aortic valve—it was a bicuspid, meaning his aortic valve only had two “flaps,” instead of the normal three, and they were obstructing the valve opening and contributing to the ascending aneurysm.

While his ascending aortic aneurysm wasn’t posing an immediate threat to his health, the risk of rupture was very high. Without surgery, that risk would continue to increase over the next few years, and a rupture was most likely not something he would survive. Tegan couldn’t believe it, but then he remembered his family history. “My grandfather died in his 50s from a sudden heart attack. This condition is hereditary, and we believe it was the same issue,” he says.

John Tegan selfie in front of fall nature
A selfie from a recent hike in the mountains.

That is when Tegan was referred to cardiac surgeon Dr. Konstadinos Plestis. “The level of care was exceptional, and I was connected to nurse practitioner Jacqueline McGee, who arranged all of my care and expedited my appointments,” recalls Tegan. “Dr. Plestis knew that my family and I were shocked to learn I had to get surgery, and he took time out to walk us through every piece of the procedure, care and recovery process, which was a huge relief.”

In August, three months after his first test, Tegan underwent eight-hour minimally invasive surgery to replace his aortic valve with a bioprosthetic valve. He came out of surgery successfully. “The technology is so advanced. After eight hours of a usually very intense procedure, I only have a small scar to show for it. After the operation, I experienced only slight discomfort and virtually no pain,” says Tegan.

John Tegan and his wife selfie while hiking together
John with his wife Michelle.

Tegan spent one night in the ICU and four more days in the step-down unit recovering from his surgery where regular care from nurses and staff was provided until he was ready for rehab. One year later, Tegan is feeling great. “I’m almost as good as new. I can’t go back to heavy lifting, but I’m back to exercising daily and enjoying long hikes and bike rides with my amazing wife.”

Tegan has never missed a doctor’s appointment and encourages everyone to see their primary care providers for regular checkups. “I consider myself one of the healthiest, most active 62-year-olds out there, and my heart condition was a complete surprise to me. It goes to show how important it is to take care of your health by not delaying routine care, no matter what.”

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