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UC Davis Vascular Center

UC Davis Vascular Center

Appointments & Referrals

Monday-Friday:
8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Physician Referral Center
Specialty referrals
and phone consultations:
1-800-4-UCDAVIS
1-800-482-3284 (choose option #2)
Consumer Resource Center
1-800-2-UCDAVIS
1-800-282-3284
General information
Vascular Center:
916-734-3800

Robert Clements: a common history and an ally in health

Robert Clements, a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force, has had a lot of adventures in his life. He wants to have many more, which is why the 87-year-old Carmichael, Calif., resident, who suffers from circulatory problems, is grateful to John Laird, medical director of the UC Davis Vascular Center and an internationally renowned interventional cardiologist and vascular specialist.

“Dr. Laird is keeping me alive,” Clements said.

Remaining alive was the main thing on Clements’ mind when, as a boy fishing in the Colorado Rockies, he had his first adventure. He suddenly became aware that something was fishing in the water with him – a bear.

“He rose up and I took off fast,” the general recalled.

It sounds simple enough, except to get away he had to navigate very icy water. When he told his parents about the encounter, his mother said: “But you can’t swim.” To which his father responded: “He can now.”

“I was watching the monitor, and that’s the last thing I remember,” said Clements, who now wears an internal cardiac defibrillator to regulate his heartbeat. “They had to use (external defibrillation) paddles to resuscitate me. I almost died.”

The abilities to think quickly and learn fast have been Clements’ greatest allies throughout life, especially during his military service. He was a fighter pilot during World War II, and after that had a long career as a military orthodontist. Today, as he battles heart and vascular disease, his best ally is Laird.

Clements started developing health trouble in 1989, when the former smoker was diagnosed with emphysema. A few years later, surgeons at David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., repaired an aortic aneurysm. Four years after that, Clements suffered a ventricular fibrillation – a cause of cardiac arrhythmia – following an electrocardiogram.

“I was watching the monitor, and that’s the last thing I remember,” said Clements, who now wears an internal cardiac defibrillator to regulate his heartbeat. “They had to use (external defibrillation) paddles to resuscitate me. I almost died.”

A few years passed before another problem arose, this time in his iliac artery, which provides blood to the lower limbs. It was a false aneurysm – or pseudoaneurysm – meaning a hematoma had formed outside a weakened arterial wall.

Surgeons at UC San Francisco Medical Center installed a stent to keep the arterial pathway functioning properly. That worked fine – until the stent started leaking. That’s when Laird joined Clements’ medical team. Clements had by then retired in the Sacramento area and was a patient of Jeffrey Southard, a UC Davis assistant clinical professor of cardiovascular medicine, who referred him to Laird.

The two hit it off immediately, which isn’t surprising considering that Laird also is a former military man. A 1980 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Laird did his medical internship and residency at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., and his fellowship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

“It opens up a whole different connection. It’s almost like a family association,” Clements said, referring to their common military backgrounds.

As for the stent, Laird had a solution. Using a catheter, he navigated the femoral artery from the upper thigh to the iliac artery in the pelvis and installed a stent within a stent. Around the same time, he also discovered a large aneurysm behind Clements’s knee that he treated with a special type of covered stent.

Both repairs worked, which is no surprise to Clements.

“He’s one of the most astute endovascular surgeons in the world,” Clements said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He’s the type of guy I could go into combat with.”

Today, Clements spends most of his time gardening or lobbying for health-care benefits for retired military families. His vascular and cardiology care are still provided by UC Davis, which he credits for helping him maintain his well-being.

“They are a fantastic, people-oriented team,” he said.