From cheerleading and drill team to line dancing and Zumba, Deborah McDuffie has always kept moving forward – even as her life was threatened by cardiovascular disease.

As she puts on her heels for a night of R&B line dancing with friends, Deborah, 57, is happy to be active again. Her recovery from surgery has been seamless, as she has returned to her weekend dancing routine.


It was 2011 when Deborah was rushed to the hospital with severe pain and pressure. It was discovered that she had a descending aortic dissection, a serious condition where the main artery off of the heart has a tear. Although it’s rare, it can be fatal and medical treatment is needed. Often, chronic high blood pressure places added stress to the aortic tissue, making it more susceptible to a tear.

Deborah was put on blood pressure medication and monitored closely, receiving CT scans every six months to check for more tearing. Over time, Deborah developed a 5-centimeter aneurysm, or abnormally large bulge, along with the dissection. In March 2016, the tear became worse. There was no time to lose. Her cardiologist immediately consulted with Rodney White, M.D., medical director, vascular surgery, MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Long Beach Medical Center.

“The tear further weakens the aorta itself and it can dilate, causing aneurysms on top of the dissection problems. Deborah’s aneurysm was large enough that it was actually compressing a nerve to her voice box,” explains Dr. White. “Not only was there risk of rupture, but she was losing her voice.”

Dr. White was one of the pioneers who helped develop the procedure performed on Deborah. The specially designed stent travels from an artery to the problem area and is carefully placed on the tear to stop the leakage, covering the defect and strengthening the wall.

Because of its less invasive nature as compared with traditional surgery, the procedure posed less risks, as well as a faster recovery for Deborah.

“Traditional surgery would have meant opening up the chest and a ‘cut and sew’ method of repair,” says Dr. White. “What we did for Deborah is more routine now, where 5 to 10 years ago, it was really not readily available. But like anything else, you need a cardiovascular team that specializes in these types of endovascular procedures in order to maximize outcomes.”


Deborah’s endovascular stenting procedure is just one in the arsenal of the specialists at the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center. Known as a leader in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and research of cardiovascular disease, the cardiac care team at the Institute offers the full spectrum of endovascular care, including transfemoral (through the large artery in the thigh) and transapical (through one of the two main valves on the left side of the heart) endovascular interventions, as well as more minimally invasive surgery techniques, such as transcatheter aortic valve replacement. Expanding its already large research footprint with the addition of Dr. White, the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center has been recognized as a leader in clinical trials of surgery devices for years.

“Dr. White is one of the thought leaders that developed this field, which really revolutionized vascular surgery,” says Greg Thomas, M.D., MPH, medical director, MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Long Beach Medical Center. “He also has developed one of only two stents in the United States to repair the ascending aorta. That’s why he’s known as the ‘Godfather of endovascular stenting.’”


For Deborah, it wasn’t just Dr. White’s credentials that stood out. It was the personal touch during such a frightening time in her life.

“His bedside manner gave me comfort. He called me himself to arrange an appointment where he could sit down with me and my family to answer any questions we may have. He wanted us all to be informed,” says Deborah. “CJ Lindenberg, his nurse practitioner, even drew pictures for me to understand the procedure. They went out of their way, and I couldn’t be more confident that I was in the right hands.”

Soon, Deborah anticipates that she’ll be attending her Zumba workout classes. Until then, she’s enjoying time with family and friends, and putting on her line dancing shoes as often as possible. She has much to be grateful for.