Making the Right Call

Bill Vinovich isn't a man easily brought down. He's an NFL referee. That takes extraordinary toughness, fitness and will. It also takes great passion.

So it was devastating in 2007 when Bill suffered a life-threatening heart condition called acute aortic dissection — a splitting of the aortic wall layers in his descending aorta. Though he survived, his career seemed over.

But Bill was determined to get back on the field. He sought the help of Yale New Haven Hospital's Aortic Institute. What John Elefteriades, MD, director of the Institute, discovered was even more sobering. Bill's ascending aorta showed signs of the same condition, an even greater danger for athletes.

Saving Bill's career — and potentially his life — required complex surgery that meant removal and replacement of the arteries to the brain. To do that, Bill's body had to be deep-cooled and placed in a state of suspended animation. Patients cannot remain in such a state for more than an hour. After 41 minutes, the Aortic Institute team successfully completed the procedure.

Before surgery, Bill's one goal was to referee again. A little over a year after Bill's surgery in June 2011, he was back on the field, doing the job that was his life's passion. On Jan. 20, 2015, Bill Vinovich was named head referee for Super Bowl XLIX.

Dr. Elefteriades, the entire Aortic Institute team and all of us at Yale New Haven Hospital couldn't be prouder of Bill Vinovich. For his courage. His determination. And the part we played in helping this incredible man fulfill his dream.