Chicago man thinks he has COVID, hours later he's having open-heart surgery

A 60-year-old Chicago man is counting his blessings and singing the praises of telemedicine during the pandemic.

He was experiencing chest issues, but did not want to go to the hospital. That is when he turned to a technology that he had never used before and it became an unexpected lifeline.


Jack Crowe is happy to be back outside just walking. It is not his usual routine. An active man, he is use to cross country skiing, snow shoeing and pushing the limits. That is why he and his wife love their secluded cabin in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

But it was there at a weekend camp fire with friends in January that his problems began.

"While I was at the campfire I just felt something gurgle a little, something in my throat and suddenly It felt like I had a chest cold," Jack said.

That was a Friday night and Jack was worried he might have COVID. Thirty-six hours later, he and his wife made the decision to drive back home to the Chicago area. That is when he remembered Rush University had an 800 telehealth number.

"I got a video to speak with a nurse practitioner named Nicole Marks. I told her my symptoms," Jack said.

"I told him he needed to stop immediately and he initially had declined. He said he wanted to make it back to Rush. So I told him that if he didn't stop that he needed to be prepared to pull over and call 911," nurse Nicole Marks said.

Jack and his wife did stop driving to Chicago and went to the closest emergency room, which was in Wausau, Wisconsin.  

"We pulled into the hospital and within two hours I was going in to have open heart surgery," Jack said.

Jack did not have COVID. He had something called an aortic dissection. It is a serious condition that involves a tear in the wall of the major artery to the heart. That means blood is leaking out of the heart. That could cause a rupture or blockage and be fatal.

Jack took advantage of something that has been around for decades, but has recently had explosive growth: telemedicine.

"If Nicole had not convinced me to…on this telephone on a video call to stop in the ER, I would not be here right now," Jack said.

Before the pandemic, a small minority of patients -- about 4% of the population -- used telemedicine.

A study published in JAMA Network Open found in 2020, telemedicine services grew by more than 1000% in March and a whopping 4000% in April.

Not only did telemedicine help jack avoid a fatal heart issue, but he also made an important discovery for his family.

After the surgery, four of his brothers and sisters were tested and also learned they have aortic aneurysms. This is vital information for his two adult children as well, who could be at risk and will now be monitored.

"Nicole Marks saved my life no doubt about it," Jack said.

Marks has been a nurse practitioner for 8 years and was initially worried telemedicine would not provide her with the same connection to patients. But now, she has a new respect. It made her all the more appreciative when jack and her got to meet for the very first time.

"Getting to hear his story, hear what happened and then ultimately see him alive was really special," she said.

Most healthcare providers will tell you telemedicine is not a permanent replacement for in-person meetings, but it is here to stay and will likely continue to grow. Especially now that many insurance companies have lifted restrictions that slowed the growth pre-pandemic.