Why Luann Was Awake During a Life-Saving Procedure

Nov 20 2023

Luann Spoerl found herself in a life-or-death situation when she was diagnosed with a rare and dangerous condition known as saddle pulmonary embolism.

This serious medical condition happens when a blood clot gets stuck in a large blood vessel in the lungs. The clot forms a blockage at the point where the main blood vessel of the lungs splits into two branches, resembling a saddle’s shape. It can be very dangerous because it obstructs the blood flow to a significant portion of the lungs and can cause sudden, severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, a fast heartbeat and sometimes coughing up blood.

Luann’s journey began on a seemingly ordinary Christmas Eve when she started feeling sick. Little did she know this discomfort would evolve into a battle for survival.

Diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly after, her condition worsened as she experienced a persistent and painful cough, debilitating fatigue and a growing sense that something was very wrong. As a woman with multiple sclerosis (MS), Luann was no stranger to health challenges. But this felt different – a battle she had to face head-on.

On Jan. 7, 2023, Luann’s strength was tested to its limits. Overwhelmed by exhaustion and struggling to catch her breath, she collapsed to the ground, feeling as if the world was spinning around her. In a moment of clarity, she reached out to her daughter, Megan, who wasted no time in calling 911. Luann’s life hung in the balance, but the actions of others who would soon intervene would help rewrite her fate.

Transported to Mercy Health — St. Charles Emergency Department by ambulance, Luann found herself in the care of our compassionate health care providers, who understood the magnitude of her situation. Joseph Krohn, an ER nurse with a comforting presence and contagious sense of humor, made her feel at ease during those uncertain moments. The entire ER team recognized the urgency of Luann’s condition and contacted Mohammed Junaid Akbani, MD, a vascular surgeon, who was ready and waiting to meet her when she arrived at Mercy Health – St. Vincent Medical Center for her procedure. From there, Dr. Akbani explained the procedure to Luann as well as the risks and gave her options.

“I wanted to be there for my daughters, so I agreed to the procedure,” Luann explains. “But I was especially fearful since my girls lost their father in 2019.”

Luann continues, “When I met Dr. Akbani, I knew I trusted him. His demeanor was so reassuring. He was very straight to the point, but I saw the human in him in the operating room. His staff loves him, he’s uplifting and he has a great attitude about everything.”

One interesting aspect of Luann’s journey was that she needed to be awake during her procedure.

As Dr. Akbani skillfully navigated the intricate details of the operation, Luann watched in real time as he explained what he was doing every step of the way.

“I immediately felt a difference during the procedure,” Luann shares.

Dr. Akbani explains, “Luann was put under light sedation because, due to her condition, it was too risky to put her under. Patients in this state might feel some pressure in the groin, followed by the urge to cough and then experience immediate relief of symptoms.”

Following Luann’s procedure, Dr. Akbani lost no time updating her family, providing them with much-needed reassurance. Luann learned the extent of her condition when Dr. Akbani showed her a photo of the thick blood clot that had affected both her lungs.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Luann says. “Dr. Akbani showed me a photo of the clot and it was eye-opening. I had collapsed because of that clot and it was the reason I felt like I had been running a marathon. It was thick and it affected both my lungs.”

Luann’s time in the intensive care unit (ICU) was made more bearable by the exceptional care she received from our St. Vincent ICU team. Dr. Akbani’s constant presence and genuine concern were calming as well.

“I had fabulous care in the ICU,” Luann shares. “When Dr. Akbani saw me up and walking around, he had everyone applaud me and called me a rock star. I felt so cool!”

Dr. Akbani received a heartfelt card from a very appreciative Luann and also received text messages and calls from her pulmonologists and primary care physician, reporting her well-being.

“I want everyone to know that I received such good care at Mercy Health and hope to inspire others who might be afraid.”

Since her life-altering experience, Luann has embraced her new reality with courage and gratitude.

Luann shares her thoughts with us looking back on this experience, saying, “I tell people that Dr. Akbani is not like your typical doctor; he is very modest, and he really cares and loves his patients.”

She adds that over Labor Day weekend, she was able to attend her nephew’s wedding in Colorado, something she was looking forward to before her emergency surgery.

“I am beyond thankful that I was able to do that,” she says.

This holiday season, we are celebrating by spreading the good news! Read more thankful stories, like this one, that feature our team members, patients and the wonderful communities we are blessed to serve.

Also, learn about the health care services we provide at Mercy Health.

Related Posts

Please review our Terms of Use before commenting.