Woman hit by aortic aneurysm at 40

When Sonia Janis found CrossFit, it was love at first lift.

"I fell in love with the concept of it," Janis says.

The mix of strength-training, cardio and teamwork helped the 40-year old clinical associate professor in UGA's College of Education get in the best shape of her life.

That is what makes what happened to Janis in February of 2019 all the more shocking.

"It's just such a rare thing," she says.  "So, I tell people there are 100,000 straws laying around, and I picked up the shortest one. It's just life."

When her older brother was diagnosed with a heart valve problem and enlarged aorta at 40, two years ago, Janis went to a cardiologist to get her own heart checked.

"I felt like I was living a healthy lifestyle, and this kind of thing wouldn't happen to me," she says.  "Why would I have heart problems if I'm always taking care of myself?"

But, sure enough, she, too, had an enlarged aorta.

Unlike her brother, Janis did not need surgery, just close monitoring.

But by late 2018, after about 18 months of regular cardiac checkups, she could feel her body slowing down.

"You're putting all this work in," she says.  "And, everyone else in the gym is getting better, and I'm getting worse."

Then came February 9th. 

"That morning I did this amazing partner workout with two people from the gym, and it felt so good," she says.

Back home alone, Janis felt her heart suddenly begin to race.

"And I felt my jaw lock up and my head, I get migraines, but this was a different kind of headache," she remembers. "It was in the crown of my head, but immediate."

Thinking she was having a heart attack, Janis drove herself to Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital.

When she arrived, cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Steve Scott was called down to the emergency department.

"When I walked into the room, it was amazing to me how calm she was," Scott remembers.

Looking at her CT scans, Dr. Scott knew Janis was facing emergency open heart surgery. 

Her aorta, the largest artery in her body was tearing.

If it ruptured, Janis could bleed to death internally.

"About 40% of people, up to 40 percent, would not make it to the hospital or to the operating room," Dr. Scott says.

In the OR, Janus was placed on a heart-lung bypass machine, as they dropped her body temperature to protect her organs.

It took 6 hours for Dr. Scott and his team to replace the torn portion of her upper aorta with a Dacron graft, then put in a mechanical valve to replace her aortic valve.

"The remainder of her aorta looks normal," Dr. Scott says.  "So, there is not another aneurysm or enlargement, so I think there is a good chance of her never needing another operation."

Four months later, Sonia Janis is in cardiac rehab and is slowly working her way back to where she was before her diagnosis.

 "I'm just looking forward to being able to move like that and my body to be as strong as that," she says.  "It's not just about the gym, it's what we can do beyond the gym."

Janis says she can't wait to see what's next.