Betit Bounces Back After Health Scare

(Thursday, November 2, 2006 5:25 PM EST)
Not many people who suffer from a ruptured aorta live to tell the tale. Gene Betit defies the norm.

Betit, a Catholic deacon and social-justice minister at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, felt a “strange sensation” while shopping at Costco with his daughter, Christie Goodwin, on Sept. 13. Although he doesn't remember being in any pain, he decided to go to Virginia Hospital Center.

After a series of tests, doctors determined that Betit had an aortic dissection with severe aortic deficiency.

The aorta is the largest artery in the human body and originates from the left ventricle of the heart. Its main purpose is to move oxygenated blood throughout the body. A ruptured aorta can have dire consequences.

Betit underwent a successful five-hour surgery, performed by cardiologist Frances McGrath and cardiac surgeon John Garrett.

“Both were really awesome dudes,” he said.

For someone who only remembers going to the doctor once in his adult life, this was unexpected for Betit.

“It was completely out of the blue,” he said. “Until recently, I thought I was going to be young forever.”

Aortic eruptions of this kind are usually hereditary, or are caused by stress. Betit said he believes his case may have resulted from both.

So, taking it easy is a high priority for him. He planned on getting back to work at the church in November, but thinks starting after New Year's is more likely.

Betit, who is an avid advocate for affordable housing in the area and very involved in his work, has realized his limits.

“I've learned to be a little more laid back,” he said. “I've been gone [from work] for a month and a half and nothing's changed. So, I'm just going to kick back.”

Fr. Leonard Tuozzolo, pastor at Our Lady Queen of Peace, said the congregation - and the community - was awaiting Betit's return.

“He does an awful lot, both ecumenically and for the poor. We miss him and we're looking forward to having him back,” Tuozzolo said.

Betit's recovery has been steady and he is just thankful that he was able to celebrate his 62nd birthday last month.

“I am very grateful to be around. There was a great chance of me not being here,” he said. “I am truly, truly fortunate.”

Gene Betit is deacon at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in South Arlington.

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