May 5, 2010

NFL Great Joe Theismann on Triple A - and not the Baseball League

Posted: 11:52 AM ET

Joe Theismann is the former quarterback for the Washington Redskins and current analyst on the NFL Network.  His commentary is an LKL Web Exclusive.

Football is a passion of mine, no doubt. As a former player, and current NFL Network analyst, I love everything about the game.  I’m truly thankful for a professional career that has spanned more than three decades, and provided me with the opportunity to lend my voice to important public health issues. And these days, I’m passionate about bringing awareness to a silent, but preventable, killer called abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), or “Triple A.”

Right now in the United States, there are one million people walking around with an AAA, and they don’t know it. My dad was one of those people.  A few years ago, he was diagnosed with an AAA during a routine exam.  He’s that breed of guy that says… “don’t worry, I’m fine”…no matter what’s going on.  I went along with it, but should have known better.  Had his AAA not been detected early, he probably wouldn’t be with me today.

Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of AAA – until my Dad was diagnosed, I had no idea what AAA was or that it could be fatal.  But here are the facts:

1. AAA is a ballooning of the abdominal aorta, the artery that carries blood to the lower part of the body

2. If an AAA goes undetected it can rupture, and only 10 percent of people will survive

3. Risk factors are common – smokers, heart problems, age 60+, family history

4. AAA can be detected and treated.  A simple, ultrasound screening can help save lives

Looking back, my dad fit the AAA risk profile exactly.  He was a smoker, over the age of 60 and had multiple cardiovascular procedures – including open-heart surgery and stents implanted to open his clogged arteries.  Of course, he was fine then too.

My dad’s diagnosis was a wake-up call for me to get screened – I’m at-risk due to my family history – and encourage others to do the same. I’ve since become an ambassador for the Find the AAAnswers campaign (, and together we’re starting to open people’s eyes to this silent killer.  We want folks to recognize their risk factors, so they can talk to their doctors about getting a simple, painless ultrasound screening before an AAA rupture.

Many Americans, especially men, don’t think something like AAA could ever happen to them.  They think – “I’m fine. Why see the doctor?” I was like that too.  Football required annual physicals, but if I had a choice between going to the doctor or golfing in the rain – I’d buy a wetsuit.

But when it comes to AAA, you need to take responsibility and make sure you get tested.  Early detection ups the odds of survival by close to 95 percent – and those are excellent odds. So I encourage you – take ownership of your health, know your risk and ask your doctor about screening.  It could save your life.

Filed under: Health • Joe Theismann • LKL Web Exclusive • Sports

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Cajazz76:24:8   May 5th, 2010 9:27 pm ET

My father died a horrible death from an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). Joe Theismann, my most sincere appreciation to you for making it stand out before the eyes of the world and I am extremely happy your father was spared what is a truly life grabbing occurrence of our physiology. In my father's situation the (AAA) didn't burst, but because of the extensive surgery required and associated blood loss other organs in his body, his right ventricle of his heart, kidneys, and bowels had ceased to receive blood, post surgery. The effects of that were extremely horrifying to see.

Robert McLaughlin   May 5th, 2010 10:14 pm ET

Thanks for making this condition something that everyone should be aware of. My family too was unaware of such a condition until my mother collapsed at home one evening. She seemed of good health otherwise. She survived the surgery that only 1 percent do, only to have her organs start to shut down one by one. She was only 60, way too young to die. It can be prevented!

Jack Liggett   May 6th, 2010 3:25 am ET

I've known for over 2 years that I have a herniated abdominal aorta.
My Dr. has told not to worry about it for now. As long as it stays under 5 cc in diameter. I do sometimes wonder what would happen if something out of my control such as a car wreck or anything else that poses a traumatic blow to my abdomin.

Jessie from Auckland, NZ   May 6th, 2010 4:56 am ET

This is quite scary to hear but thank you for bringing this to peoples' attention and for informing us.

@Cajazz76:24:8 May 5th, 2010 9:27 pm ET

Sorry to hear about your father.

Cajazz76:24:8   May 6th, 2010 1:11 pm ET

@Jessie from Auckland, NZ

Thanks Jessie, I was wanting to make others aware that the quick and painless procedure is a wise choice for everybody. It was a very brutal situation to watch, for him it was 3 days of inconceivable torture until he passed back in 1996 on Halloween and as you said, "quite scary", at the least, considering the ramifications.

@Jack Liggett

A second opinion is always a good idea. I have heard that there is a procedure in which they sort of sleeve or girdle it to prevent it from expanding or resection it with a' bifurcated dacron graft.'. You can find it on google I am sure.. Best regards...cajazz

Gary Fish   May 6th, 2010 1:23 pm ET

I had the more rare ascending aortic artery aneurysm which was found quite accidentally when I had a c-scan for a lung problem! Because the remaining aortic artery is dissected I am at risk an abdominal aortic aneurysm as well so I get annual check ups! I am alive only because of the c-scan for a different physical problem and because of the incredible skill of the doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. I urge everyone over 60 to get the screening for AAA at least annually. You don't feel an aneurysm until it bursts so do the right thing and get checked. Thank you Joe Theismann for making us all more aware of AAA. It could save lives.

Jessie from Auckland, NZ   May 8th, 2010 10:45 pm ET

@Cajazz76:24:8 May 6th, 2010 1:11 pm ET

Thank you for your reply. I need to have an abdominal ultrasound done and I hope it is not this. As mentioned, it is preventable if caught in time.

Are there any specific symptoms to look for. I suppose can google it.

Cajazz76:24:8   May 9th, 2010 1:06 am ET

Jessie from Auckland,NZ

There is much that can be googled in regards to AAA but, the symptoms can manifest themselves as ordinary and subtle discomfort, however, when they present themselves, it is often too late for the chance of a successful surgery to correct it. Get the ultrasound and you'll have the assurance to allay the fear from any possibilities. Good luck, Jessie.

Jessie from Auckland, NZ   May 9th, 2010 11:37 am ET

@Cajazz76:24:8 May 9th, 2010 1:06 am ET

Thank you so much for the valuable information you have given me. I very much appreciate it. Good day to you.

RGabes   September 16th, 2010 11:54 pm ET

My dad recently passed away as a result of a ruptured AAA. He actually survived the surgery but passed away 2 weeks later from further complications (kidney failure, liver failure etc.) As my entire family is in complete mourning we are spreading the word to family and friends to get checked for this. Does anyone know of any reputable foundations that accept donations which will be put to good use to help spread awareness? Or does Findtheaaanwsers have anything?

Thanks and Regards!


RM   December 15th, 2010 1:52 pm ET

I am a 32 year old wife of 13 years and mom of 3 kids, at risk of AAA due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Most people are unaware of the severe complications of EDS. Since there are few symptoms of AAA, if any, every day is a blessing.

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