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Med Student Discovers Real Disease in Fake Patient

Jackson Smith/UVA Health System(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- A medical student learned an important lesson to never assume anything, when he correctly diagnosed a fake patient with a very real and very deadly disease.

Ryan Jones, 25, a medical student at the University of Virginia, was taking part in a lesson in which local residents act out certain symptoms so that students can practice correctly diagnosing patients.

However, one of Jones' patients was unknowingly suffering from a very real condition called abdominal aortic aneurysm.

When Jones was examining one of his "patients," Jim Malloy, he found signs of the aneurysm in the retiree's abdomen.

"What I do remember is putting my hands on his stomach and feeling a pulsing expanding mass," Jones told ABC News.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm results in a large blood vessel in the abdomen being damaged and ballooning out. If left untreated, the aneurysm can burst, leading to fatal consequences 80 percent of the time, according to the National Institute of Health.

Initially Jones was confused by what he found because the abdominal aortic aneurysm was the exact disease Malloy was "impersonating" as a patient.

"Had he been portraying a [disease] with another symptom, I wouldn't have done that part of the physical exam," said Jones. "It's not a routine portion of the exam, it's only because he was portraying that case of [abdominal aortic aneurysm]."

Malloy never actually felt any symptoms of the aneurysm and Jones said his decision to do an abdominal examination was related purely to the fake symptoms Malloy was given by supervisors.

After finding the mass, Jones told his supervising physician, who recommended that Malloy see a cardiologist for an ultrasound.

Malloy eventually had surgery to fix the aneurysm without suffering complications. Jones said at the time of his surgery Malloy's aneurysm measured 5.9 centimeters, which meant there was a 40 percent chance it would rupture within four years.

In spite of his initial suspicions, Jones didn't know what happened to Malloy until he met Malloy's wife months after his diagnosis at the hospital.

Malloy's wife, Louise Malloy, also acts as a medical patient for students at the university.

"I was standing beside his wife [and] she said, 'Oh, earlier this year a medical student found my husband's aneurysm,'" recalled Jones.

When Jones explained that he had been the one to treat her husband, Louise Malloy gave Jones a hug and said after her husband's experience she told every medical student that they could "make a difference" with their patients, even when they were still training.

"Jim's life was saved by a University of Virginia medical student, no doubt about it," Louise Malloy said.

Jones is in his fourth year of medical school and plans to be a radiation oncologist.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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