Name: Louis Buffetta
Age at time of Dissection: 60
Type of Dissection: Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 15 September 2010 Tell Us Your Story: SUMMARY:

I was hospitalized between September 15th and 26th, 2010 with a TAD (Thoracic Aortic Dissection). This is the same condition that killed John Ritter and Lucille Ball. Their dissection burst through the outer artery wall and they bled to death within minutes. I was luckier. My aorta ruptured internally. The inner lining tore away from the outer artery wall. It’s affecting the organs below my heart. Surprisingly, my heart is fine. My left leg and right kidney are most notably suffering because their blood supply is blocked. I’m extremely lucky to be alive – I guess somebody up there is watching out for me. Treatment is to keep my blood pressure very low for the next 4 to 6 months and see if my aorta heals itself. Surgery may or may not be required but only time will tell. I’m told that a full recovery is not expected for at least 24 months.


I had a heart attack way back in 2004 and have been fine until now. What happened is that I got caught unemployed and without medical coverage for the last couple of years. This is the first time in my life I had to go without any kind of medical coverage. I couldn’t get independent coverage because of a pre-existing condition (the heart attack). “Obama-care” gave me some hope because I knew somebody would have to accept me no matter what. But the bill simply didn’t kick in fast enough to help my case.

When I lost medical coverage I went off my high blood pressure meds. Bad move! That made me a ticking time bomb as my blood pressure normally runs at Stage 1 Hypertension (avg 157/97 – sometimes higher, rarely lower). I did my best to bring it down using supplements and other natural ways but it wasn’t enough in my situation. The lesson here is to never ever come off your blood pressure medications if you have high blood pressure.


There was a big difference in symptoms between this Aortic Dissection (TAD) episode and my previous heart attack. During my heart attack I felt pain in my chest earlier in the day but ignored it thinking it was simply strong gas pains. Later that evening the pain became intense and unrelenting. Pressure was building up in my chest. I realized what it was when the pain started shooting down my right arm. There were intense uncontrollable feelings of anxiety that came over me during the attack.

The Aortic Dissection pain was much different. The symptoms came on suddenly and severely. It felt like someone had just stabbed a large knife into my heart and was twisting and turning it inside my heart. The pain never went away but dulled a bit after 5 or 10 minutes – like the knife twisting and turning had stopped. The pain never shot down my right arm and I never got anxious. Then I started experiencing a different kind of pain moving down to my sternum area and later to just beneath my rib cage. That’s when my left leg start going numb. The more I tried to stand on it the more immobile and painful my leg became.

Just prior to the aortic dissection, I was under a lot of stress and strain. I was physically active all that week – more so than normal, climbing up and down ladders. I was upset over a few things. My blood pressure was higher than normal almost bordering Stage II Hypertension. The dissection occurred late at night when I wasn’t able to sleep.


At first I suspected a stroke or a blood clot restricting blood flow to my leg. I was able to dress myself and drive myself to the hospital. Thank goodness the ER is only 12 minutes from the house. There was a noticeable difference in the pulse between my good right leg and bad left leg. A quick ultra sound confirmed there was restricted blood flow in the left leg. I was wheeled into another room to do an angiogram on my left leg. However, I kept complaining about the pain that was moving down my chest and now across my rib cage. I described it as the most horrible and intense gas pains I have ever had. It was that moving pain that tipped off the doctor. He said he wanted to run a Cat Scan.

While being prepped for the CRT, my pain became more intense. They told me that I would feel a warm feeling in my body when the die was injected. My instincts told me something was seriously wrong because I never felt the warm sensation. I owe my life to that angioplasty doctor. Had he not ordered the CRT I could have been misdiagnosed and probably have died soon thereafter. It turned out I had a Thoracic Aortic Dissection with a descending tear. Most of my blood supply was being shunted through the section of inner artery that had torn away, known as a false lumen. They tried to describe it with the onion layer analogy but I finally got the picture when one doctor said it’s more like one long balloon inside another. And the inside balloon (tear) is handling the blood flow.


They wanted to fly me to a major regional hospital who was better equipped to handle this. No insurance meant the other hospital would not accept me. It’s just as well. Standard treatment for my particular dissection is to lower my blood pressure and get me on medications to control heart rate, cholesterol and blood pressure.

The false lumen was restricting blood flow to my right kidney and left leg. I was kept in the hospital for two weeks. I think they wanted to keep me longer but I insisted on going home. BTW, God forbid you ever have to go through this or know a loved one going through this, take the morphine. It was a Godsend for easing the pain, keeping me calm and lowering my blood pressure.


It feels like something came down a zapped all my energy. Getting out of bed and walking 50 feet became a major task. I’d be out of breath and would have to rest up for the return journey. One of my doctors explained that it was the medications. He said if a normal person were to walk up a flight of stairs, their body would compensate by raising the heart rate and blood pressure. The medications I’m on keep my heart rate low and keep my blood pressure down. My body can’t compensate like a normal person so I get tired. He said this will improve over time as my body adjusts to the medications.

Now my blood pressure hovers around 80/60. They want to keep it below 120/85. The next 4 to 6 months I must stay calm, not raising my blood pressure at any cost and allowing my aorta to heal itself. I’ve been home for about 4 weeks and I can feel my stamina gradually coming back. I can now walk around the house and take some short walks outside. My stamina is starting to return as I can do a little more over time. My left leg pains are not as severe and my back pain (kidneys) seems to be letting up. My limbs are not “falling asleep” (going numb) while I sleep supine at night as often as when I was first discharged.

When I first got home I was getting severe sharp pain in the ball of my left foot. The only relief was to keep the foot elevated in a recliner chair. Over time that pain has subsided into a dull ache. I can handle the dull ache and it does not restrict my walking. And it appears to keep improving over time. Things are getting better.


Everyone does the research. So did I and learned about the markers. So far I’ve made it past the 5 minute marker, 2 week marker and 30 day marker. I’m still alive and can feel some improvement as time goes on. My next marker is 6 months. We’ll see how the evaluation goes with the doctors. And after that my goal is to make the 2 year marker. The best any of us can do is taking it one day at a time. Who knows how far one can go? Each day is a blessing. And it’s nice to be here taking in all the beauty.


Right now I’m trying to get on Social Security Disability (SSI). Wish me luck. That will be a big help for the future.

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