When the University of Virginia hired actor Jim Malloy to fake symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm for use in a practice diagnosis scenario, no one imagined he would actually be afflicted with the potentially fatal disease.
The exercise, a routine part of the medical school’s standardized patient program, should simply have involved actors pretending to display the symptoms of a particular disease. Med students, after examining the actors and listening to the actors’ complaints, would analyze and diagnose them.
However, when medical student Ryan Jones began his examination of Malloy, what he quickly learned was that the actor’s symptoms were entirely real: he actually found an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Some confusion ensued upon his discovery. “I said, ‘I think I found an aneurism,’” Jones has said of the moment of discovery. Malloy, who had been instructed to play along, did so, leaving Jones to wonder if Malloy knew the situation was a real one.
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Meanwhile, Malloy himself didn’t know there was anything wrong with him.
“He thought I might have been a ringer that was planted in there to test him, and I had no symptoms. He thought I was a plant with the real situation,” said Malloy.
Adding to the difficulty in assessing the reality of the situation was the fact that an abdominal aortic aneurysm is a condition that often goes undetected.
The abdominal aorta is the main blood vessel that transports blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs; this blood vessel can become dangerously enlarged, without displaying any symptoms. If it expands too quickly, it can leak blood or even burst, leading to internal bleeding and possibly resulting in death.
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After Jones’ diagnosis and upon the overseeing physician’s advice, Malloy saw a cardiologist, who informed him that Jones’ initial diagnosis had been correct. He has since undergone stent replacement surgery to remove the aneurysm, and, fortunately, has regained full health.
“I was surprised to learn what had happened,” said Jones. “It feels great to know that I made a difference.”
Jones, who plans to become a radiation oncologist, is in his last year of medical school. He is currently interviewing for residency programs across the country.
Sources: Gawker, CBS News
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