BayCare's Extraordinary Cardiovascular Teams and Treatment Protocols Save Lives

February 06, 2024
A man and woman in their 60's smile at the camera. They are outside with trees and sky as the background.
Connie and Ronnie Beck savor every moment of life, grateful to BayCare's exceptional cardiac surgeons and health care teams who saved her life when she had an aortic dissection.


When Connie Beck experienced severe back and chest pains about a week before Thanksgiving, her husband, Ronnie, rushed her from their home in St. Petersburg to the emergency center at BayCare’s St. Anthony’s Hospital. Neither knew that without that immediate intervention, she only had a few hours to live. 

But their quick actions gave them access to BayCare Health System’s exceptional cardiovascular care, ranked #1 in Florida for Cardiac Surgery in 2023 by Healthgrades.

At St. Anthony’s Hospital, the health care team urgently evaluated Connie Beck and ordered a CT scan. The test confirmed that Beck had an aortic dissection, a condition with fewer than 200,000 cases annually in the United States.

“The inner lining of Beck’s aorta had torn and with each heartbeat it was unraveling a little more,” said cardiovascular surgeon John Ofenloch, MD, who did Beck’s surgery. “Aortic dissection is highly morbid if someone doesn’t seek immediate treatment or get to the right hospital.”

Since Beck went to St. Anthony’s Hospital for initial treatment, the doctors knew what to look for and what steps to take next to save her life. They immediately called EMS and the care team at BayCare’s Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater.

Dr. Ofenloch, cardiovascular surgeon Joshua Rovin, MD, and the surgical team began preparing for Beck’s arrival and surgery. St. Anthony’s Hospital sent Beck and a critical care nurse by ambulance to Morton Plant Hospital. Within an hour, Beck was in surgery.

Beck’s surgery took six hours. Dr. Ofenloch and Dr. Rovin skillfully removed as much of the abnormal aorta as possible and rebuilt the aorta using Dacron, a waterproof polyester material that the body will not reject.

“We rebuilt the aorta in such a way that if additional work is needed in the future, it can likely be done with stents,” Dr. Ofenloch said.

Beck doesn’t remember going to Morton Plant Hospital or her first few days there, but her husband does. 

“I sat in the waiting room for hours. When it was over Dr. Ofenloch came out and told me what happened and what to expect when I saw my wife,” Ronnie Beck explained. “She was on a ventilator with IV poles on both sides, but one of the nurses in the OR had put her hair in little pigtails before wheeling her out. She looked like a little Viking warrior princess.”

Connie Beck was in the hospital for 13 days. Her husband was there for eight to nine hours each of those days. 

“You cannot credit the OR team and the entire Morgan 3 team nearly enough,” he said. “Members of the surgical team would come by early in the mornings just to check on her. When her ventilator was removed, the nurses cheered and high-fived each other. They are truly invested in their patients.”

More than two months removed from surgery, the Becks are getting their lives back to normal. Connie Beck returned to her job as a human resources director for a few hours each week, but she’s still a little bored. 

“I really want to do more around home and use my Ryobi tools,” she joked.

Hypertension is most often the cause of aortic dissection. Beck didn’t think that was a problem for her. She was taking Lisinopril and thought her blood pressure was under control. 

“Under normal circumstances, my blood pressure was controlled,” she said. “I would go to the doctor, and everything was fine. I found out recently that it was spiking when I was upset or temperamental.” 

“Anyone with severe back or chest pain should seek immediate treatment, even with no prior symptoms,” Dr. Ofenloch urged. “Timely treatment at the right place made all the difference for Connie Beck.”

The timely treatment starts with having protocols for treating aortic emergencies, like a dissection, in place at all BayCare ERs. The ER team evaluates the patient and orders a CT scan and other diagnostics. If the patient needs complex cardiac surgery not available at that facility, the ER team coordinates immediate transfer with EMS and a BayCare hospital with complex cardiac surgical teams.   

BayCare has complex cardiac surgical teams at Morton Plant Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa and Winter Haven Hospital in Winter Haven that perform aortic dissection repairs and other complex cardiac surgeries. 

Learn more about BayCare’s outstanding heart and vascular services.

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