Name: Joe Brielmaier
Age at time of Dissection: 39
Type of Dissection: Both Ascending and Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 26 July 2008
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At the time of my aortic dissection, I only had one previous surgery, on my knee a year before this happened. I was at the time 39 years old, no previous heart problems, no family history of heart problems, and in relatively good shape.
My wife and I were on a long walk, working up for a trip to the Grand Canyon, where we were planning on hiking and camping for days. Thank god this didn’t happen on that trip, I wouldn’t be here today to tell this story.
During this walk Saturday July 26th, a couple of hours into it, I felt a warm sensation in my neck. I sat down to catch my breath and hope this went away. After a couple of minutes, I stood up and felt something move down my abdomen. I sat down again and tried to get up at that time my left leg went numb. My wife and I were worried, but not overly scared. She ran the mile and a half home to get the car, I couldn’t walk. We went home and I was uncomfortable, not in any pain, so I took some antacids, thinking it was heart burn, I continued to be uncomfortable. We then went to the ER. While there, since I didn’t have chest pains, I wasn’t rushed in. Once in an examine room, I was feeling more discomfort, mainly in the abdomen.
It took at least 45 minutes for the ER doctor to diagnose the dissection, by finding different pulses in each of my feet. I was rushed to get a CT and the dissection was then discovered. There wasn’t a surgeon at this small community hospital to do the surgery, so they had to get on the phone and go down the list, on a Saturday night, to find a hospital to take me. Finally finding one, I was transported by ambulance; I remember traveling as the sun was setting on Seattle.
I remember getting to the hospital and being taken to the floor where the surgeon was waiting, I remember signing something and the surgeon explaining to me what was going to happen and if I understood. I also remember handing my wedding ring over to my wife.
The surgery was difficult, I read the op-report months after surgery. My tare was from the ascending aorta, just above the aortic valve and continued down the abdomen and into the iliacs. I had a Dacron graft placed in the ascending aorta, and because the difficulty of the surgery, they couldn’t fix the aortic valve, it had to wait until I was stronger. The 5 days following the surgery were very difficult, this was a traumatic surgery, and I will never forget the nurses and doctors who took care of me that week.
At home, during my recovery walks, I noticed my left leg was a little numb behind me knee, it was discovered that my blood flow was compromised and a tare was found in my iliac. So two months after my open heart surgery, I had a surgery to put stents into the iliacs to open the blood flow.
9 months after the open heart surgery, and after having a reoccurring fever, an infection was found around the graft site. It was decided that another surgery was necessary. I was flown to the Cleveland Clinic, from Seattle; I remained at the Cleveland Clinic having tests run to prepare for another open heart surgery to replace the graft and the aortic valve. A homo graft replaced the Dacron graft and bovine valve replaced my damaged aortic valve. I was very lucky to be at the Cleveland Clinic and to have Dr. Lars Svensson as my surgeon, he was very confident; I had no worries about this procedure. My recovery was smooth and painless.
Over a year and a half after my last surgery, I haven’t had any problems or complications. I have an abdominal ultrasound done every six months to check on the stents in the iliacs and to monitor the abdominal aorta. I also have an echocardiogram done every six months to monitor the graft in the ascending aorta.
I have altered my diet, and have increased my cardiovascular exercise. I don’t know what the future holds for me, I do know since I’m relatively young; I will have at least one, maybe more surgeries to replace my aortic valve. I hope for technological advances to make these procedures less invasive than they currently are.
My life has changed forever, I don’t think they way I did, I don’t act the way I did, I take each day as it comes, or at least I try, I don’t take life for granted anymore.
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