Former football player helps raise money
Former professional football great Joe Theismann has tried to raise awareness about abdominal aortic aneurysms for the past four years. When he does so next weekend in Baton Rouge, he’ll lend his star power to a Louisiana organization that has just gone national.
Aneurysm Outreach, founded in 1999 by Sheila Arrington, of Prairieville, has merged with a similar group, Find the AAAnswers Coalition, and will operate under the name AAAneurysm Outreach, the nonprofit organization announced on Tuesday. The goal is to increase awareness and provide potentially life-saving free screenings across the country.
“Basically, it’s my dream come true,” Arrington said. “I started it hoping it would grow and continue onward after I’m gone. And it will, so I’ll be able to leave a legacy.”
Arrington and Theismann have a common interest in the subject. Arrington’s father died when an abdominal aortic aneurysm ruptured in 1977. He was 58 years old. Arrington later discovered seven family members who developed such aneurysms, four of whom died when they ruptured.
Theismann, who played on a Super Bowl championship team and in two Pro Bowls in a 12-year National Football League career with the Washington Redskins, learned several years ago that his father, also named Joe, had been diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm (which organizations refer to as AAA).
Concerned about his own risk, Theismann began including an ultrasound abdominal aortic aneurysm screening in his regular checkups, and became the spokesman for Find the AAAnswers, which was sponsored by Medtronic, a medical technology company. He will headline AAAneurysm Outreach’s annual “Louisiana Saturday Night” fundraiser on Aug. 11 at the Lyceum Ball Room.
Men are four to five times more likely to develop abdominal aortic aneurysms, Arrington said. Risk factors include age (60 and older), a history of heart disease in the family, high cholesterol and smoking.
“That’s the driving force, to just have people become aware that there is a screening that can be done to see if you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm,” Theismann said. “Guys are terrible when it comes to doctor’s appointments, but every year you should get a physical, and as part of your physical you should ask for an abdominal aortic aneurysm screening.”
Theismann’s father’s aneurysm was discovered during a medical checkup. As is almost always the case, there were no symptoms that led him to suspect anything was wrong.
“There’s over a million people in this country walking around with an abdominal aortic aneurysm and don’t even know it,” Theismann said. “We’ve done thousands of screenings and found hundreds of aortic aneurysms. In essence, I feel like we’ve saved hundreds of people’s lives just by the simple fact that they had a screening. It’s noninvasive. It takes about 10 minutes.”
AAAneurysm Outreach recommends screenings once every five years for individuals older than 60 or older than 55 who have a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms.
Merging the two organizations combines their resources to both publicize the issue and pay for the free screenings, Arrington said. AAAneurysm Outreach will expand its current seven-member board, all from Louisiana, with members from Find the AAAnswers.
Since 1999, Arrington’s organization has held free screening events across Louisiana and discovered 265 people — more than 200 of them men — with abdominal aortic aneurysms, referring each of them to physicians for treatment. Treatment is successful 95 percent of the time when discovered in advance, Arrington said. The next local screening is scheduled for Sept. 15 at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Medtronic is underwriting medical screenings in other states.
Because men are disproportionately likely to have abdominal aortic aneurysms, Arrington said her organization usually offers door prizes to encourage men to come in. Theismann said he understands why that is necessary.
“Guys over 60, you still have a little bit of that, ‘Well, if I cut my finger off I still have nine’ mentality, as opposed to just being proactive,” he said. “What we have to realize is we’re not immortal. We have mortal things that will take place in our bodies as we grow older. If I can sort of give myself a chance at spending another 10 or 15 years on this earth by just having a simple screening ... it makes sense, especially if you’re having a regular physical.
“I think so often we’re afraid to go to the doctors and ask questions because we don’t want to know the answer. Guys take the mentality — and I was this way — if I don’t know about it then it doesn’t exist, until all of a sudden you drop dead, or something bad happens and the doctor says, ‘If you had just come in and gotten checked out this could have possibly been prevented.’”
The organization’s website, (http://www.AneurysmOutreach.org) includes an interactive portal where individuals can learn about the subject, assess their risk, find a local doctor and pledge to tell a loved one about abdominal aortic aneurysms.