This is a very sad email from one of my members. I am terribly sorry for his loss of a son. If you have a family history of aortic dissections, PLEASE get tested! Thanks Steve Atkatz for sharing.

I, a survivor of an aortic dissection and major surgery, Bovine aortic valve and dacron grafts replacing the ascending, arch and a good part of the descending aorta, have just suffered the terrible experience of losing a son to an aortic dissection.

Joel was 50 years old but of extremely low risk. He was a Kung Fu Master and ran a school in Atlanta. He never drank or smoked, was very careful about his diet, kept his body fat to 8% and was in wonderful physical condition.

I followed up with geneticists both at Columbia Presbyterian in NYC and the University of Texas Medical School [Memorial Herman Hospital] in Houston. In both cases I was advised that they are starting to identify genes and chromosomes that lead to a thinning of the aortic walls and eventually aneurysms. All of the mutations being identified are dominant, meaning if only one parent is carrying it he/she will pass it on to all offspring. They have not reached the point where they have enough evidence to publish their findings but are getting closer.

Their advice is if you, or someone in your family, are an AD survivor. Or if their have been multiple unexplained sudden deaths in you immediate family, to have all direct descendants get a CT scan with particular attention for aortic abnormalities, and to repeat them at least every five years.

I have been told that a normal thoracic aorta is 3cm in diameter. At 4cm it can generally be controlled and managed medically with drugs. At 5cm surgery is called for whether it has dissected or not. Surgery before dissection has a mortality rate of 1-2%, after dissection >50%. Nuff said.

Brian Tinsley