When delivery driver Cuthbert Allen was in Neptune Beach enjoying his hobby of remodeling homes and heard a pop in his chest, he didn’t know his journey to a healthy heart was just getting started. Allen bent down to lift two boxes of flooring when he heard the pop and felt the sudden onset of chest pain.
“It was August 23, 2018 – a day I’ll never forget,” said Allen.
He quickly sat down to take a break, but the painful heartburn feeling just wouldn’t go away. Fortunately, the homeowners came out to see what was wrong and insisted he go home to get some rest. Allen, then 48, got in his car but couldn’t even manage to put it into gear.
“Zoee, that’s the homeowner’s wife – she took one look at me and snatched me up and took me to the emergency room at the beach. I was so lucky she was there to make sure I got help,” said Allen.
Allen immediately underwent a multitude of tests as his pain continued to grow. The ER staff eventually told him that they didn’t know how he was still alive, as he had suffered an acute aortic aneurism 40 minutes prior to his arrival. They flew him by helicopter to a larger hospital in Jacksonville, where he heard the words you never want to hear from your doctor: “we can’t help you.”
The chief surgeon there told him he thought UF Health was his best bet in making it out alive; however, an afternoon thunderstorm meant it was too windy for a helicopter to transport Allen. The only solution was to rush him in an ambulance all the way to Gainesville.
Allen’s fiancée Tracy Wilder, was shocked when the doctors at UF Health asked her how long he’s had high blood pressure. Never in Allen’s life had he been told that he had high blood pressure. He had many physicals, had been in the military, was quite active, tried his best to eat well and worked as a FedEx courier for 26 years.
After a few days, Allen woke up at UF Health Heart & Vascular Hospital and barely remembered anything. Cardiovascular surgeon George Arnauotakis, MD, explained that he had experienced a 75% tear in his aorta, a condition that fewer than 10% of people survive. He could either be placed on an intense medication regimen, quit his job, and have the possibility of this happening again, or he could undergo an even more intensive open aneurysm and arch repair surgery. Ultimately, Allen wanted to get his life back to normal and knew his case was too urgent to wait.
Allen relied on his fiancée, God and the staff at UF Health for support during this time. He said without any of them, there was no way he would have been able to go through with the surgery.
“I honestly wanted to walk out of the hospital right then,” said Allen. “I was scared and in pain. But the doctors were patient, and explained everything they would do to help me. I decided to move forward with the surgery as my best chance to return to normal.”
Dr. Arnaoutakis could see that Allen was scared. He explained the in-depth details of the surgery and they formed a special connection. After six hours in the operating room, the repair was a success.
Recovery was difficult for Allen, who enjoys being active and productive. He hated having to lay around and having limits of what he could do but was blessed to have his family there for him in every way imaginable.
Before his first visit back to UF Health, Allen was very nervous. He didn’t know what to expect. After the surgery, he feared anyone coming near his chest. He had even been avoiding hugs from his family. However, when he got to his appointment, Arnaoutakis made him feel right at ease. Their connection was more important than ever as he validated his feelings and was able to conduct the appointment in a way that was comfortable for Allen.
“Thanks to UF Health, the physicians, the nurses, the staff, everyone – I’m here today,” said Allen. “I’m here for my fiancée, my sons and their children. I enjoy life every day with no regrets. Living in the moment and grateful for each one.”
After about five months, Allen was able to return to work with FedEx and was back to renovating homes. He is able to lead a normal life and looks at his scar as a reminder of just how close he came to losing his life that day. This experience gave him a second chance at life. He spends his days prioritizing his family, friends and doing what he loves.
Allen continues to have routine follow-up visits at UF Health every six months. He is willing to drive 90 minutes each way for his appointment rather than receive a referral to a closer doctor because of the amazing connection he has with Arnaoutakis and the high level of care he received.