Name: Laurie French Haas
Age at time of Dissection: 43
Type of Dissection: Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 6 March 2010
Tell Us Your Story: Laurie French Haas – 43
March 2010 – DeBakey Type III dual descending aortic dissection
On the evening that my dissection occurred, I was sitting at my computer working on a project. A sudden pain hit me. The pain was like no pain I’ve ever felt before. It was a stabbing, tearing chest pain and it caused me to lose my breath. When I tried to stand up I fell down because my feet were numb. I called to my daughter and my husband. I thought it must be a heart attack. I could think of nothing else that it could be. The pain was mind numbing.
I was 43 years old, no history of heart disease, a non-smoker, I averaged a blood pressure of 110/70 and my cholesterol was normal. I was very healthy or so I thought.
My husband called an ambulance. When the ambulance arrived I was still on the floor in a curled up, with my shoulders rolled over kind of position. I could not lay down because the pain intensified if I did.
At the Emergency Room (a University Trauma Center), the emergency doc said that the EKG ruled out a heart attack. He then took a chest x ray and asked me if I had pulled any muscles. I told him that I had not injured myself and that this pain did not feel like a pulled muscle at all. I was misdiagnosed and sent home with Tylenol 3 for a pulled muscle.
I knew that there was something else wrong with me because the pain did not go away. In fact, I didn’t sleep at all. I was convinced that I was dying. It was horrible.
I contacted my internal medicine doctor the next morning. She believed it might be some type of hernia. You know, I don’t think the ER doc or my internal medicine doc ever checked the pulses in my different extremities. Now that I’m a survivor, I know that could have pointed out the dissection. She told me she was sending me for a CT scan and left the room. The nurse came back in and said the CT was scheduled for the following week. I burst into tears and told her I couldn’t wait that long. She left the room, spoke with the doctor and they got me the CT appointment for the next morning. I guess she realized just how much pain I was in.
Next day, my husband took me to the same hospital that I had been to before. The CT scan was completed and they met me with a wheelchair at the CT machine. The radiologist said that they had found a problem.
They rushed me to the trauma bay and told me that my aorta had dissected in two places and that I must have emergency surgery. I remember them telling me that it was dangerous surgery, but that there was not an option. I would die without the surgery. The bad news was that the hospital didn’t have any of the necessary Dacron patches and they would have to wait for one to be brought in from a city an hour’s drive away. The good news was that the surgeon who would be operating had trained with Dr. DeBakey and he was one of the best. He would do a thoracic endovascular repair (TEVAR) of my aortic dissection.
I had no idea what any of this meant. I remember just saying to them, “Thank God you have figured out what is wrong with me!”
So we waited in the trauma room for the Dacron patch to arrive. By the time I was taken into surgery, my minister, my mom and dad, my best friend and my sister had all arrived. They must have given me tons of pain medicine. My minister tells me know that I gave her specific instructions about my funeral in case I died, up to and including the fact that I wanted rosemary for remembrance on my casket. I do remember telling my husband that I wanted to be an organ donor. I knew how bad this was. I knew that anything that caused this much pain must be horrible.
My husband says that after I was taken into surgery they told him how bad it really was. My friend tells me that my poor husband looked white as a sheet for the entire 6 or 7 hours the operation took.
The surgery was a success. I spent a week in CCU and that was an ordeal that I’d never want to repeat again.
I was out of work for about 8 weeks. I teach at the University level. I felt very, very weak for a long time. They kept my blood pressure very low, which contributed to the weakness I believe.
I only took thyroid medication before the dissection. I am now on blood pressure medicine, cholesterol medicine, anti depressant medicine, a reduced dose of thyroid medicine and a baby aspirin. I fight fatigue everyday. I have gained probably 35 lbs since the operation. Some days it’s just hard to get going. Before my dissection it never would have occurred to me to take a nap. I would now take a nap everyday if I could.
I am lucky to be alive. I do not feel like the same person I was before my aorta ruptured.
I have had continuing problems with restricted blood flow to my right carotid artery. My arm and hand goes numb when I do any repetitive activity. I feel weak and tired most days. I am terrified of the medical system because I was initially misdiagnosed.
I had a one year CT study to evaluate my graft. My surgeon says my aorta looks wonderful. I do have to have a carotid arterial bypass surgery to repair the arterial restriction to my arm. Of course I am not looking forward to this surgery at all. I have avoided this second surgery for the past year, but the surgeon told me today that my fingers look blue and the restriction has worsened. He said I am at risk of losing my fingers if I don’t have the surgery.
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I thank God everyday for my life. I also harbor continued anger that I can’t seem to get back to normal. It’s a long slow journey.