Sewall Shurtz-73

Brian, my compliments!! My name is Sewall Shurtz and on 2/23/2007 at 2:24 am my Aorta ruptured and I had a AAA descending dissection. They say that my Aorta just blew up from top to bottom. At the time I was working about 19 hours a day, was in the beginning of a divorce, etc. I am a United States Olympian. Was 4th in the 1956 Olympics and was running my own club. Knowing the after results, I am certain you can understand what I went threw. It is ALL RELATIVE. WE ALL handle it our own way. I have what they call a “leaker” aneurysm just above where the aorta enters the heart.

I consistently measure 4.4cm on the C scan and the vitals stay in the teens and one twenty over 65 range. Thank god for beta blockers. I think the frustration is that, as my cardiologist said to me “… can do whatever you like EXCEPT compete or exert to that level because if you do, the aneurysm will tear and you will die.” I find the problem is, what is the danger level and how do I know it.

The famous heart surgeon Ted Dietrich in AZ told me not to worry, yearly C scans will show if we need to put a “sleeve” on it. Understand that the operation is non invasive (thank God not to be cracked open again) and done much like a stent. However,it is pretty much recognized that there are not that many surgeons that do the operation. I live in Sacramento and am near some strong thoracic surgeons.

I really do not want to have that leaker tear open. I coach on a limited basis and at a very reduced level. I stay below 2,000mg of sodium and watch my life very closely. On a very realistic basis, have you seen any articles that even dare to guess at my longevity based on the AAA? I read once that less than 1% live with the explosion I had. My cardiologist says I am sort of special in that the length of the tear is pretty much unbelievable – as one surgeon said “your house was not yet ready.” Appreciate your time. I am all alone and I am certain you can appreciate the waters get rough.

God Bless


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I was one month shy of being 74. No problem, I am happy to have it published. I have seen the pics and have what looks like a Teflon hose for a major portion. Apparently, one of the miracles of my survival is that there was no damage to the kidneys.

When it hit I was sitting down and I felt the tear in what would be my sternum (I do not have one from birth), it lifted me up and threw me some 6 feet on too the floor. It DOES get your attention. My daughter tells me that they lost me twice in ICU. I remember the paddles once, the rest is lost in 5 days of la la land. Also about two months of memory. No matter my friend – I am still VERTICAL!!


Mr Shurtz

There’s no real limit on how long you can live after an aortic dissection. I have patients who are 30 years out from their dissections and doing fine. There obviously is a risk of rupture but that is usually preceded by enlargement, so with careful monitoring and good surgical care(when necessary) it’s there is no reason to believe that you won’t be around for a long time. Most if the data on survival after dissections is limited by the overall health and the conditions that led to the dissection(htn, atherosclerosis) in the first place.

With regard to appropriate activity level – that depends very much on the exact nature of the dssection and the state of the aorta. In almost all cases competitive athletics is out due to tendency for people to push themselves to the limit when competing. Isometric exercise that involves straining is generally not wise as well since it tends to send the blood pressure up excessively.

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1 Comment

  1. Gordon McKinzie

    Here I am, probably lucky to be alive, just three weeks after the “event.” I am a 73-year old man in what I consider to be reasonably good shape for my age — I swim regularly, do strength exercises, and take power walks when the weather is right. I have never smoked and drink only socially. I do have an elevated BP and take Atenolol on a daily basis. But, while sitting benignly watching TV, I felt an intense heat in my lower back, like I was pressed up against a heating pad on steroids. I jumped up and tried to walk around to shake it off (even used ice packs), but that didn’t work. I vomited everything I had, suspecting that it might be food poisoning, but that didn’t work either (I was not nauseous at any time). I went to bed, but couldn’t get comfortable, so made my way downstairs and tried to manage the pain. Although the pain was radiating up through my abdomen, pushing and prodding in that area didn’t offer any relief. Finally, at about 3AM my wife (a retired RN) insisted we go to the ER at our local hospital. There they (fortunately) got to me right away and did a cat-scan, which showed an aortic dissection from the top of the arch down into the groin area. My BP at the time was 206, but they cautioned that it was elevated in large part due to the pain and the anxiety. I was cold and clammy and sweating profusely. Soon I was given an IV drip for the pain and was soon in an ambulance speeding down into Seattle to Harborview Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma center that services most of the Northwest, including Alaska. The vascular team, led by Dr. Thomas Hatsukami, also a professor at University of Washington Medical School, met me in their ER and quickly started me on BP-lowering drips. I was three days in ICU, and two days in the surgical ward where two stents were placed to relieve any blockage in the groin area. I am home now monitoring my BP like a hawk and feeding the results to my private doctor, who is tweaking the med inventory to keep the BP between 100 and 120. Occasionally the BP goes too low, which can cause dizziness and disorientation. I have had one follow-up session with Dr. Hatsukami, and he did a stress test and ultrasound — no problems there. But follow-ups with him every 3 months will be part of my life from here on out.
    I was not aware of the critical nature of this attack until the doctors began filling me in with details. I asked my own personal physician if he had ever seen an aortic dissection, and he replied “only during autopsies!” That was a sobering disclosure, underscoring the time-critical aspect of what had happened. In retrospect, we should have called 911, but fortunately at 3AM my wife had a pretty clear track to the ER. Dr. Hatsukami cautioned me that if I ever have intense pain across my chest, abdomen, or in my legs, to not ask questions but call 911 immediately, since a four-hour “window” is about all I would have available to effect a good recovery!

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