Ian MacPhail, originally from Shawbost but living in Stornoway, has told how routine medical screening saved his life. (He is pictured with his wife Joan).
“I only went for the sake of peace and to keep my wife happy, but now I realise the enormity of how serious it was and how lucky I am to be alive” said 69-year-old Ian, who is back to daily life having recovered from an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA).
In 2016, Ian received an invitation to attend routine AAA screening at the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway. The invitation is offered to all men in Scotland aged 65 years to help find aneurysms early and to offer monitoring or treatment.
It is estimated that about 1 in 20 men aged 65 in Scotland have an AAA, with the condition affecting the main artery (the aorta) in the stomach. As some people get older, the wall of the aorta can become weak and balloon out to form an aneurysm, which is called an AAA.
Iain said, “Everyone gets aches and I’d been doing a lot of bending in the garden a few days before. I’d a nagging pain across the middle of my back which I’d put down to gardening, but otherwise felt fine.”
However, when Ian was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm he was told this was one of the symptoms, although AAAs often can grow slowly and usually without any symptoms, making them difficult to detect.
Ian, who was previously self-employed as a taxi driver and worked at Marybank Quarry and as a Water Bailiff for the Stornoway Trust, admits that he, like most island men, was “not good” at attending clinical appointments and had no intention of going to his AAA screening appointment.
Ian said, “I wasn’t going to go and had had quite a few arguments with my wife Joan about it. I didn’t see the point and just didn’t want to go.
"On the day itself, Joan was going to another hospital appointment at the very same time as my appointment was due to be held and said as I was going to give her a lift and be waiting around the hospital that I may as well go, so for the sake of peace and quiet, I went.
“I was met by Steve Wilson and Mairi Morrison in the Radiology Department, and then taken into a room where they explained what would happen and if I had any questions. They were really nice and helpful. I then lay down on the bed and they used a small device, about 3 inches long, to roll over my abdomen – that was it! The whole appointment was all over in about 10 minutes with a quick scan.
“After Steve performed the scan he asked if I knew anything about aneurysms and it was then I was told that I had a large abdominal aortic aneurysm measuring 8cm – when 5cm was considered large. I was given more information and a booklet to take home to read.
“I was supposed to have taken a list of my medications to the appointment but forgot to, and told Steve I’d return with it shortly. I returned to the hospital accompanied by my daughter and when Steve asked how I’d travelled there, I said I drove. I hadn’t realised that I was unable to drive due to the condition and its seriousness, so my daughter drove back.
“Within a matter of hours I was telephoned by Professor Duncan, Vascular Consultant, in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness; saying he wanted to see me the very next day. By 12pm the following day I was in Inverness having prep work done for going into theatre the next day.
“At this point I still hadn’t realised how serious the condition was. The Consultant then explained that if I hadn’t gone to the AAA screening appointment, he’d have given me three months to live - and that in itself was being generous.
“The enormity of how serious it was hit me then and how lucky I was. Before this happened, I thought these appointments were a waste of time and simply couldn’t be bothered going – now this has shown me how important attending is. It’s taught me a valuable lesson.”
Ian’s wife Joan, said, “We’ve been married for 47 years and have three kids and six grandchildren. When he told me of his diagnosis, I thought I was going to be a widow – I’m so very thankful that he went to his appointment. When he was in Raigmore Hospital and went in to Theatre it was a very long wait, it was a very long day for the entire family. The staff were excellent though.”
Ian said, “I was more scared for my family than for myself but I’ve always thought that it doesn’t matter how bad you are, there’s always someone worse off.”
Ian, who stopped smoking after having a massive heart attack 7 years ago, said, “When I had the heart attack I had a scare, so I stopped smoking, cut down on eating rubbish and started walking. I now walk a total of 4-5 miles a day, once in the afternoon and again in the evening.”
After a successful operation, Ian put his quick recovery down to his improved health and positive attitude, saying, “My Consultant was surprised as to how quickly I recovered. In fact I hardly needed any pain relief and was discharged in seven days.
“The staff at Western Isles Hospital and Raigmore Hospital were excellent. In fact all the staff at both hospitals just went above and beyond, particularly a nurse in the High Dependency Unit at Raigmore Hospital named Joanne.”
Christina Morrison, NHS Western Isles Health Protection Nurse Specialist said “The AAA screening programme identifies men who have an aortic width of more than 3cm measured by an ultrasound examination of the aorta. If the measurement is under 3cm, the man is unlikely to develop an aneurysm and will be discharged from the screening programme. If the measurement is over 3cm then they will be reviewed at regular intervals.”
She added “We hope that by reading Ian’s story, men who were not planning to attend their appointment will now do so. For those men who may have missed their appointment they can contact 01463 705429 or 01463 704067 to book themselves another appointment.”
Ian said, “I’ve told a lot of people how lucky I was. If I have one message for other men who avoid appointments like I did, it’s to stick your pride under your arm and just go. Don’t live in ignorance, it could be a matter of life or death.
“It was a frightening experience but now I’m just so thankful. I keep telling folk I’d only gone for sake of peace and to keep the wife happy! I know differently now.”