Resource Blog/Media/BETH Gibber DelLago HERO


Great Performance: Emergency Surgery Saves Local Theater Legend

Baptist Health Bethesda East Hospital

A pillar of the local theater scene, Randolph DelLago feared he was facing his final curtain call when he experienced sudden, intense chest pain.


“I was making coffee in my kitchen one night and it hit me,” Mr. DelLago recalls. “It was like a horse kicked me in the chest.” Knowing he had no time to spare, he headed immediately to Baptist Health Bethesda Hospital East — and collapsed in the driveway outside the emergency department.


It was quite a dramatic entrance, even for a retired actor who served as artistic director of Delray Beach Playhouse for 40 years.


(Watch now: A pillar of the local theater scene, Randolph DelLago, 76, feared he was facing his final curtain call when he experienced sudden, intense chest pain. Responding immediately was cardiothoracic surgeon Marc Gibber, M.D., the medical director and chief of cardiac surgery at Bethesda Hospital East, part of Baptist Health. Video by Basil Lewis, Muddasic, Inc.)


The Diagnosis

Mr. DelLago suffered an aortic dissection, a life-threatening tear in the wall of the artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The condition is so lethal, it is estimated that up to 50 percent of patients die before reaching a hospital.


Mr. DelLago, 76, was quickly assessed, bringing to light an additional complication. He was taking blood-thinning medication, which made surgery even more risky. Advice was sought from cardiothoracic surgeon Marc Gibber, M.D., the medical director and chief of cardiac surgery at Bethesda Hospital East.


Dr. Marc Gibber 228 x 228

Cardiothoracic surgeon Marc Gibber, M.D., medical director and chief of cardiac surgery at Bethesda Hospital East, part of Baptist Health


Although he was not working that day — in fact, it was his birthday — Dr. Gibber responded immediately and was soon prepping for surgery.


“He drove to the hospital, sized up the situation and took on the challenge. And nine and a half hours later, I was still alive,” a grateful Mr. DelLago says. “You know, had he not come to the hospital, I would have died.”


Along with cardiothoracic surgeon Joseph Thomas McGinn III, M.D., Dr. Gibber undertook surgical repair to the vital artery. The procedure required opening Mr. DelLago’s chest, putting him on a heart-lung machine and stopping his heart so that the damaged section of aorta could be removed and replaced with a synthetic graft.


Joseph Thomas McGinn III, M.D.cardiothoracic surgeon at Bethesda Hospital East, part of Baptist Health


“These operations are one of the most intense and longest operations we perform,” Dr. Gibber explains. “The surgery itself can take over nine hours, but we have a great team here.”


It did not occur to Dr. Gibber to hesitate. “As a doctor and as a surgeon, I needed to be there,” he says. “Despite it being the weekend that I was off, I felt that this patient was not going to survive if we did not intervene.”


Understanding Aortic Dissection

The aorta is the main artery that branches off the heart and supplies oxygen-rich blood to the body’s organs and tissues. The wall of the aorta consists of inner, middle and outer layers. Aortic dissection occurs when there is a tear in the inner layer and pressure from blood flow causes the layers to separate.


“What happens when a dissection occurs is that the blood gets in between the layers and can obstruct or stop the blood flow to other parts of the body,” Dr. Gibber explains. “It can stop the blood flow to the brain, causing symptoms of a stroke, or can stop blood flow to the organs, or to the arms or the legs. In the worst-case scenario, it can go through all the layers and rupture.” This would cause life-threatening internal bleeding.


Approximately three in 100,000 people in the United States suffer aortic dissection each year. The condition most commonly affects older men.


Mr. DelLago’s symptom of intense pain was fairly typical. “Most of the time patients feel a tearing sensation either in their chest or in their back between their shoulder blades, Dr. Gibber says.


On with the Show

Although recovering from such a grueling surgery has been tough, Mr. DelLago is excited about his current project at The Wick Theatre & Museum Club in Boca Raton, where he writes and narrates the Musical Memories series celebrating the great composers and lyricists of the Broadway theater.


In the more than 60 years since he stepped into a role in The Miracle Worker in high school, his passion for theater has never waned. Already working as an actor in Toronto, he arrived in South Florida in 1982 to guest direct Arsenic and Old Lace and has never left.


It’s not about the applause, although he does appreciate that. It’s something deeper.


“You count your great performances,” he says. Although he has had many good performances, the truly great ones are few and far between.


“I’m no Olivier, but the great performances are the ones you don’t remember doing. You walk on stage, somebody speaks to you, you speak back, and from that point on, you’re not there. The character is there, but you are not. That’s when you know you’ve done it right.”


In some ways, that’s what happened when he made his big entrance outside Bethesda Hospital East. I don’t remember anything for the next couple of days,” he says. “And when I came out of it, I found out that one person had saved me… The end result of all of this, of course, is an enormous appreciation of life.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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