All Heart

After Being Given A Second Chance at Life, Robert Epps Dedicates His Time To Helping Other

Robert Epps dedicates his life to helping other heart patients.

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According to Robert Epps, the human aorta is as big around as your average garden hose and is shaped like a candy cane, running in an arch shape from the heart and down into the abdominal region where it splits to supply blood to the legs.

He should know. He’s become somewhat of an expert on the heart and its largest artery since undergoing surgery to repair his aortic valve (AVR) and a 8 cm ascending aortic aneurysm (TAA) in 1996, an aortic dissection (where a tear in the wall of the aorta causes blood to flow between the layers of the artery) in the thoraco-abdominal aorta (where the aorta leaves the arch and branches feed blood to the head and neck) in 2002, and a third major surgery to fix an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA—a major swelling of the aorta) and right iliac artery (where the aorta splits in the lower abdomen) in 2004.

It was the final surgery that really turned the tables for him. Scar tissue from this caused his bowel to buckle. Similar to the way water will cut off when you fold a hose over, nothing would pass through the kink, so he had to be hospitalized for 10 days without food. The medical staff put a tube down his nose and into his stomach to drain the gastric acid, in hopes that it would relieve the pressure on his intestines enough to release by itself, but nothing seemed to be working.

The day before doctors were getting ready to open Robert up again to surgically repair the kink, he got extremely depressed. After being in the hospital for so long and in so much pain, he basically gave up hope. “I just quit,” he says. “I didn’t want to keep going, and I noticed that my vision was starting to fade to black on the sides. I had given up.”

But it wasn’t the medical staff that stepped in to save his life. It was his wife.

“You would think that you’d have a little pity for someone in my situation at the time,” says Epps. “But my wife came in the room, saw what was happening and yelled at me to stop being so selfish. ‘You better not leave me here to raise this boy by myself!’ she said. ‘This is not about you. It’s about all the people you’d be leaving behind.’ It was exactly what I needed to hear.”