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Health Team

Alamance man survives ruptured heart

Posted February 25, 2009 5:40 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT

— Alamance County resident Bedford Lee literally suffered a broken heart.

Doctors discovered the condition when Lee was brought into Duke University Medical Center in January 2008.

Lee, 66, had been loading his truck with feed at his Alamance County farm when he started falling sideways and hit his head on the rear gate of the vehicle. He crawled into the driver’s seat and started hitting the horn. He was able to put the car in gear and drive to his home, where his wife, Barbara, met him in the driveway. She called a rescue squad.



On the scene, Lee was evaluated for a heart attack. In the Duke emergency department, doctors opened Lee’s blocked heart artery with a stent.

“It was later on that night, several hours later, things just started downhill, instead of getting better,” Barbara Lee said.

Doctors did an echocardiogram and saw blood around Bedford Lee’s heart, Dr. Peter Smith, a heart surgeon, said.

Smith said Bedford Lee's heart had ruptured. It was losing blood into the pericardial sac, the protective tissue surrounding the heart.

“We're talking probably less than one in a 1,000 would have this, and then most of those would die,” Smith said.

Smith opened Lee’s chest and placed a surgical patch over the hole with biological glue. The procedure worked.

Bedford Lee is the 18th recorded survival of a ruptured heart in the country. He said that while he was in the hospital recovering, staff often came into his room to see the miracle that everyone was talking about.

After months of rehabilitation, Bedford Lee returned to doing the things he loves – being with his wife and preparing for blueberry season.

“I thank God everyday for the time that I have here now,” Bedford Lee said.