Name: Dale S
Age at time of Dissection: 44
Type of Dissection: Both Ascending and Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 1 June 2009
Tell Us Your Story:

We had just come back from a weekend trip the night before, sort of a working vacation, and I was back at work with one daughter in tow. I had been feeling extra tired for the few weeks prior, but attributed that to being overworked and completely stressed out. That morning, my younger daughter (age 9) had thrown a tantrum over having to go to school when her sister (age 13) had already started her summer vacation. I had work piled up to my eyebrows and I was feeling just awful.

At noon, my husband, daughter, and a co-worker were down in the food court eating a greasy, unhealthy lunch when the pain hit. It was like someone had taken a sword and stabbed it straight through my chest and out my back. I couldn’t breathe. It was terrifying, like my insides were ripped clean through. Someone called 911 and the paramedics loaded me on a stretcher and started treating me for a heart attack. (It made sense, I was over 40 and about 40 pounds overweight.) I only remember telling my co-worker to take my daughter home.

At the hospital, they took X-rays and EEGs, but everything looked normal. In fact, the pain had lessened somewhat and moved lower, into my abdomen. I actually started to feel embarrassed that I was experiencing some kind of indigestion. But the attending physician was a friend of mine from high school that I hadn’t seen in 22 years, so she kept coming back to ask if I still felt the pain in my back. That was the one thing that was consistent, that even though the pain was moving lower, it still went straight through me. ‘One more test,’ she said, ‘to rule out dissection’ and so I was transported up for a CT Scan.

As he started running the dye in my I.V., the Tech said this was just a precaution because I was too young for an Aortic Dissection. I wasn’t back in the ER for more than a couple of minutes when the doctor came in again. I can still hear her voice say, “we got the results back and it’s very very bad.” She told me I had to be transported to another hospital, the first with a cardio-thoracic surgeon and an available O.R. They gave me meds to slow my blood pressure way down and put me in an ambulance. On the way, my left leg went numb and I blacked out for a bit.

When I came to, a doctor was telling me that the two inner layers of my aorta had dissected from the aortic arch, down to my abdomen, but the outer layer was holding. I remember him saying that there was a 20% chance I’d survive the surgery, but the only thing that went through my mind was that I had argued with my little girl that morning and I was so sorry that her last memories of me would be of that fight.

I woke up one week later, after having been moved from the ICU to a regular room. I learned that they had done a femoral to femoral bypass when the dissection cut off the circulation to my left leg. I had also suffered a stroke so they weren’t letting me eat or drink anything.

I remember sitting in that hospital room with my iPod, not able to work it because I couldn’t get my fingers to move the way I wanted them to. It seemed like my whole world had imploded on me.

Recovery was slow. It was four months before I could walk on my own, and another three to go back to work for a couple of hours a day. It was even longer before I got clearance to drive again. Emotionally, it’s been a bit of a struggle because I’ve had a rough time coping with the changes in my life, but my body has healed to the extent that I’m able to work part time and care for my family again.