Just four days after experiencing a life-threatening aortic aneurysm rupture, Bob LaGasse walks his daughter, Ali, down the aisle on her wedding day.

In celebration of Father’s Day, Brigham Bulletin is highlighting a heartwarming tale of love and family made possible by the extraordinary contributions of a multidisciplinary care team.

Bob LaGasse, 76, was being transported to the intensive care unit of a New Hampshire hospital when he saw a surgeon waiting for him in the corridor. It had been a long, difficult day — one that started when Bob went to his local emergency room after experiencing excruciating abdominal pain.

“We’ve got news for you,” the surgeon told him. “We’ve got to take you to Boston.”

Bob shook his head. “I can’t do that,” he responded. Seeing the surgeon’s eyes widen in surprise, he added by way of explanation, “My daughter’s getting married on Saturday.”

If he didn’t go to Boston, the surgeon explained gently but firmly, Bob and his family would have much graver concerns. That’s because Bob had suffered a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm — a life-threatening event that occurs when the lining of the body’s largest artery, the aorta, weakens and bursts. The results are often catastrophic, as blood flow to the major organs becomes disrupted and fills the abdomen. Even with timely treatment, only half of patients who make it to a hospital survive.

After learning just how serious his condition was, Bob didn’t need further convincing. Soon, he was on a medical helicopter en route to the Brigham. His wife, Diana, followed by car.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of a specialized, multidisciplinary care team — and effective collaboration with colleagues at Parkland Medical Center in Derry, N.H. — Bob not only survived and recovered in a matter of days, but he was also discharged in time to walk his daughter, Ali, down the aisle as planned on April 22.

“It was just so emotional — every piece of it,” says Bob, reflecting on what it meant to be able to attend and participate in his daughter’s wedding.

“At the ceremony, our friends brought me to the edge of the lawn in a wheelchair and helped me stand up. I grabbed her arm, and then gave her a hug and a kiss before giving her away to her future husband,” Bob recalled. “It was almost overwhelming. It was just so emotional — every piece of it. I didn’t sit back down until they turned and walked to the altar together.”

For Ali, it was a memory made even sweeter knowing all that her father overcame to be by her side.

“Having your dad walk you down the aisle is something every girl dreams about on their big day,” said Ali, who also enjoyed a father-daughter dance with her dad during the reception. “When we were walking down together, I kept saying to him, ‘You’ve got this, Dad — only a little farther.’”

Mohamad Hussain, MD, PhD, of the Division of Vascular & Endovascular Surgery — who led the multidisciplinary surgical team that performed an endovascular repair of the rupture — reflected on how gratifying it is to contribute to such a heartwarming outcome.

“As a doctor, this is what we strive for — the hope that our patients can live their lives to the fullest, even after such a catastrophic situation,” Hussain said. “Seeing Mr. LaGasse be able to go home and attend such a major event in their family’s life — his daughter’s wedding — was such a joy, and we were all very happy to play a role in that.”

Despite the terrifying circumstances that brought them to the Brigham, the LaGasse family said every part of their experience made them feel like they were exactly where they needed to be.

“We were just astounded. I felt in my heart that everybody took care of us,” Diana said. “From the valet who was so welcoming and allowed me not to think about parking, to the person at the front desk who showed me how to find the elevators, to the nurse who called me while Bob was in surgery just to let me know where he was — every single person did something to the best of their ability to achieve this remarkable outcome.”

Bob said his experiences as a patient left a similar impression.

“When I was in the Operating Room, there was a woman standing by me and holding my hand. She was so gentle, kind and calming,” he remembered. “Dr. Hussain came to my room the night after surgery, and I said to Diana, ‘This wasn’t a medical call. This was a personal call.’ He came down to see how we truly were.”

Collaboration and Compassion

From left: Mohamad Hussain and Bob LaGasse

Bob first sought emergency care when he began experiencing crippling abdominal pain one afternoon. But after several exams, clinicians couldn’t identify a major concern and discharged him.

“We were home for probably about an hour or so when I went upstairs to clean up. I passed out while I was shaving in the bathroom,” Bob remembered.

Everything happened quickly after that. Diana called 9-1-1, and first responders rushed him back to Parkland Medical Center, where additional imaging revealed internal bleeding in his abdomen. His blood pressure was rapidly dropping.

It turned out that a prior aneurysm he had repaired a decade ago had failed, begun to leak and soon ruptured. The gradual progression is what made it difficult to diagnose initially, but it also likely helped save Bob’s life, Hussain explained.

“These patients usually have minutes to hours before a rupture becomes fatal,” Hussain said. “In cases like this, where the bleeding occurs slowly or sometimes stops for a little bit, there is more time for an intervention.”

Once doctors in Parkland received a clear understanding of the circumstances, they contacted the Brigham. Hussain was the vascular surgeon on call when the request for transfer arrived at 7:12 p.m. that Tuesday. By 11 p.m., Bob was in surgery at the Brigham. Two days later, he was ready to be safely discharged.

Teamwork was crucial to achieving such an impressive outcome, Hussain said. It started with the collaboration of clinicians at Parkland, including an emergency physician who FaceTimed with Hussain to review all the imaging while Bob was being transported — enabling the surgical, PACU and ICU teams to be fully prepared once he arrived.

Working closely in the Operating Room with vascular fellow Brittany Aicher, MD, anesthesiologist Derek Ho, MD, and a large multidisciplinary team, Hussain and colleagues performed a minimally invasive repair using a stent graft through small incisions in the groin.

The second important contributor to Bob’s outcome was the activation of the Brigham’s Code Aorta team, a collaboration between Vascular Surgery, Cardiac Surgery, Vascular Medicine, Radiology, Anesthesiology, Critical Care, Emergency Medicine, Nursing and allied health professionals to provide emergent evaluation and treatment of patients with acute aortic conditions, such as aortic rupture and dissection.

“A key component of the Code Aorta program is to facilitate rapid transfer of patients with acute aortic pathologies from regional health centers via the BWH Access Center to the Brigham to provide prompt surgical and medical care for these complex patients,” Hussain explained.

Ali, who works as a central sterile technician in a New Hampshire hospital and has cared for patients with ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms, said she was especially impressed by how skillfully the teams worked together to deliver high-quality, compassionate care.

“There was one ICU nurse who was so kind and supportive. She stayed with us to explain everything about what had happened and how he was doing,” Ali said. “I think his amazing outcome was because of all the positive people around him.”

When reflecting on their family’s experience at the Brigham, Diana said one word came to mind: gratitude.

“It’s important for people to know that touch of the hand, that little smile or kind word, it doesn’t go unnoticed,” she said. “Everyone had their unique way of showing compassion, and it truly made a difference. Even if we didn’t have a chance to tell you that, I hope you know it matters — because it does.”