The Rev. Vincent Liddle, 79, part-time Episcopal priest at St. Matthew’s Church in Maple Glen, has made a remarkable recovery from a life-threatening abdominal aortic aneurysm, thanks to the surgery performed by Theodore Sullivan MD, director of Vascular Surgical Services at Abington Memorial Hospital.

by Rita Charleston

Still in his 60s, he was getting older, but like many of us, still feeling pretty good for his age. Retiring in 1998 after 17 years as rector of the Church of the Messiah in Gwynedd, Vincent Liddle, now 79, and his wife, Rosemary, bought a motor home and decided to see the country, even packing up their little dogs and occasionally driving out to California to visit their children. Sometime later, the couple sold their motor home and their house in Ambler and spent several winters in Florida, where Liddle worked at a small Episcopal church that was just starting up.

Indeed, life was good for this busy couple — until one day, about 10 years ago, when just as a precautionary measure, Liddle decided to go for an overall health screening. Although he had no symptoms, the screening showed an abnormal ballooning of his abdominal aorta, the main artery that supplies blood to the lower part of the body.

“Without any symptoms, the doctors in Florida decided just to keep a close eye on my condition with periodic ultrasound scans, testing me about every six months,” Liddle recalled. “Then they said once every year would be fine.”

About three years ago, Liddle and his wife decided to move back to Ambler. However, in October of 2012, another routine ultrasound at Abington Memorial Hospital showed that Liddle’s aneurysm had grown. “At that time it had grown to 5.3 centimeters,”explained Liddle, “and the blood vessel could have burst, resulting in massive internal bleeding which could have been fatal. That’s when the doctors at Abington decided it was time to intervene.”

“With an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), we wait to intervene until the risk of rupture outweighs the risk of surgery,“ said Theodore Sullivan MD, director of Vascular Surgical Services.

Liddle’s artery had reached that danger point, so the decision to operate was made. However, he was spared the kind of surgical operation that would have been necessary a decade ago which would have required a sizeable incision in the abdomen. Dr. Sullivan performed an endovascular aortic stent graft. Through small incisions on each side of the groin, he used live X-ray technology to guide catheters through blood vessels to the site of the aneurysm.

“Today we can offer a minimally invasive procedure to nearly 80 percent of those who require AAA repair,” said Dr. Sullivan, “resulting in less physical stress and post-operative pain.” Fortunately for Liddle, he not only received this new procedure, but he was also the first patient at Abington to benefit from surgery in the hospital’s new $3.5 million, fully equipped hybrid operating room that allows for a collaborative approach to treatment. By placing multiple monitors around the hybrid O.R., physicians, technologists and nurses are immediately able to view patients’ progress and vital signs.

“Vincent’s case was almost textbook as far as AAA repair goes,” said Dr. Sullivan. “It was a planned procedure with a great outcome.” (Larger than a traditional operating room, the new O.R. is equipped with highly developed fluoroscopy equipment used together with 3-D high-definition video technology.)

According to Liddle, “In the old days, this kind of operation would have been horrific. I know of someone who had it done years ago and was in intensive care for two weeks, while it took another six months to recover. In my case, I was told I’d have to spend two nights in the hospital, but I went home after just one night.”

Now that it’s all over, Liddle feels he is back to normal with no symptoms at all. The only thing he has to put up with now is a CAT scan once every six months and an ultrasound every year just to make sure everything is as it should be.

“It took me about a week to fully recover, but now I’m feeling just fine — nice and healthy,” Liddle said. “I’m able to serve part-time as an Episcopal priest at St. Matthew’s Church in Maple Glen. I also enjoy working in my garden, taking walks with my wife and our two little dogs, Abbie and Joie, and just enjoying life in general. As for others, I would recommend everyone get a health screening. It can’t hurt, and just like in my case, it certainly can help.”

For more information, call 215-481-2204 or visit amh.org. To view a video with surgeons discussing the new hybrid O.R. At Abington Memorial Hospital, visit amh.org/hybridor.