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Specialized procedure by experienced cardiologist helps prevent sudden deaths in Valley patients

HARLINGEN, May 2023Dr. Shereef Hilmy, a Cardiologist at the South Heart Clinic, recently performed his 1000th aortic aneurysm repair procedure, potentially saving a patient’s life at Harlingen Medical Center.

The procedure is critical in that it must be performed before an aortic aneurysm bursts – which would mean severe internal bleeding and almost certain death for the patient.

Thanks to the minimally-invasive procedure that Dr. Hilmy performs at Harlingen Medical Center, most aortic aneurysm patients are able to go home after just a short stay in the hospital.  The “endoluminal” aortic aneurysm repair procedure is performed through a small cut (incision).  This is much easier for the patient than the traditional “open surgery” method — which requires a large cut in the belly or chest.

The minimally-invasive endovascular repair technique enables most patients to go home within 24 hours – as opposed to open surgery, which can require patients to stay in the hospital for seven to 10 days, Dr. Hilmy said.

Most aneurysms occur in older patients, in their 60s, 70s, or 80s. Dr. Hilmy and his support team at Harlingen Medical Center have performed aneurysm repairs on patients from across the Valley — with many patients coming from the Brownsville and McAllen areas, in addition to the Harlingen-San Benito area.

“We perform most of the complex cases in the Valley,” Dr. Hilmy said. “Patients come in with a life-threatening situation … it’s very rewarding to see them walk out of the hospital 24 hours later.”

Harlingen Medical Center News photo - Harlingen Medical Center

Staff at Harlingen Medical Center who assist Dr. Hilmy with treatment and care of aneurysm patients include nurses and technicians in the cardiac catheterization laboratory, operating room techs, ICU nurses, and general staff members.

“The staff at Harlingen Medical Center is very proficient, and the nursing staff is accustomed to care for these patients, utilizing standard procedures,” Dr. Hilmy said. “The team is exceptionally well-trained … it’s like a well-oiled machine.”

An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the aorta, a large artery that carries blood from the heart through the chest and torso.  This can be likened to a balloon – or a bulge in the inner tube of a bicycle tire.  If a bulge in the blood vessel bursts, it will cause bleeding inside the body — and in most cases, death.

Most aortic aneurysms occur in the abdomen, below the chest.  Less common is a thoracic aortic aneurysm, which happens in the chest.

Patients at higher risk for aortic aneurysms include those who smoke, those with high blood pressure, those with vascular problems (such as blockages of blood flow in the blood vessels),  and those with a family history of aortic aneurysms.

Dr. Hilmy recommends that high-risk patients be screened at age 50, through an ultrasound of the abdomen.

“People at high risk shouldn’t wait to be screened,” Dr. Hilmy said. “Most aneurysms that erupt are fatal.  An ounce of prevention is obviously better than a pound of care when it comes to aneurysm care.”

To prevent aneurysms, patients should be pro-active in taking steps to improve their health, Dr. Hilmy said. Losing weight can help, since obesity contributes to high blood pressure.

“Make sure to eat right, reduce your cholesterol, exercise, and get your blood pressure down,” Dr. Hilmy recommends. “Being in good health, you will also feel better.”

Dr. Hilmy - Harlingen Medical CenterDr. Hilmy is a board-certified interventional cardiologist with extensive experience in multiple cardiac sub-specialties. Along with Dr. Hugo Blake, Dr. Hilmy was a co-founder of the Heart Clinic group, an organization that revolutionized cardiology practice in the Rio Grande Valley. Dr. Hilmy was involved in initiating multiple programs for cardiac care since his arrival in the Valley, including:

– Coronary angioplasty

– Coronary stenting

– Peripheral artery disease therapy

– Coronary and peripheral atherectomy

– Nuclear cardiology

– Trans-esophageal echocardiography

– Cardiac pacemaker and defibrillator implant, including biventricular pacemakers and defibrillators

– Carotid artery angioplasty and stenting

In recognition of his role in the development of numerous cardiac programs in the Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Hilmy received The American Heart Association Thomas Robertson Award and the Heart Of Gold Award.

Dr. Hilmy has served as the chief of cardiology and director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Harlingen Medical Center, which was named as one of the top 50 cardiovascular hospitals in the nation by Fortune and IBM Watson Health in 2021 and 2022. 

For more information on award-winning heart care in the Valley, please visit