Family's heartbreak turns into hope for those with aortic aneurysms

Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez
Terry Lopez
Terry Lopez

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

KAILUA (KHNL) - In just a few days, Honolulu City Councilmember Duke Bainum will be laid to rest. He died June 9th from an aortic aneurysm at just 56-years-old.

Bainum's sudden death hits home for one Kailua family, who suffered a similar loss. On Wednesday, they shared their potentially life-saving message of hope.

A husband and father, taken so quickly - Louie Lopez of Kailua was only 47-years-old when he died of an aortic aneurysm.

Five months later, Louie's mother died the same way. A golf swing at the 18th hole, and she collapsed.

It didn't occur to Jennifer, who was 26 at the time, that she would end up tip-toeing so dangerously close to the same fate as her father and grandmother.

"I figured oh, I got a few years you know, Grandma was older, so I figured I got til my 50's and 60's before I really needed to get checked out," she said.

Lopez was active, healthy, with normal blood pressure. She was only 33-years-old when her aortic aneurysm dissected.

"The aorta has three layers and the most inner layer of the aorta ripped away from the other two layers," she said.

Lopez bears a scar on her chest, marking her ordeal the past six years: three aortic dissections, a heart attack, heart failure, then a heart transplant, and an aortic aneurysm that still threatens her life. And it all started with minor back pain which Lopez blew off.

"An aneurysm and dissection can be prevented or avoided if you know about it beforehand," said Lopez's mother, Terry.

The Lopez's say, the lesson learned? Get scanned for aneurysms, even if you feel fine. The symptoms are subtle, so it's critical not to ignore the little signs.

"One little twinge could, you know, save a life," said Lopez.

Aortic aneurysms can be detected through tests like cat scans or MRI's, and they are manageable, thanks to new technologies.

More information can be found through the Bicuspid Aortic Foundation, which is a non-profit devoted to raising awareness about preventing and treating aortic aneurysms. Terry and Jennifer are members.