Name: Michael Sullivan
Age at time of Dissection: 45
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 16 August 2009
Tell Us Your Story:

Life was on cruise-control. I was one week past my 45th birthday, had a good job, house, family and no health issues. 2 years prior at a regular checkup, my PCP noted that my BP was elevated to 170 / 90 and asked me if I would consider going on meds to lower it but I resisted, saying to him and myself “I can lose 10-15lbs and exercise to control it naturally”. I missed my follow up with him the next year and the house of cards came tumbling down two years later on Sunday morning 8/16/09.

Unlike most of the stories I’ve read here, I had no pain when it went down. I woke up around 9 on that Sunday and made my way downstairs. Along the way I noticed that my right side was uncoordinated. My right eye was blurry and depth perception was off. I reached for door handles and missed and walked with a limp. My wife Karen and I both knew it wasn’t a typical ailment. I did the only thing I could think of and took 2 Advil. We got in the car and went to a regional medical center. The doc there knew right away that it was the aorta and scrambled a Life Flight out of there to UMASS in Worcester Mass.

Somewhere between the two hospitals I started to get pretty moderate pain in my right shin and started sweating profusely.

I arrived at UMASS and met the surgeon Dr. Okike. He explained as patiently as possible to me and Karen that this was as about as serious as it could be and that I needed surgery right away or I wouldn’t survive a day. He operated on me for 14 hours and during the operation I had several strokes. (I dispute that theory because I feel that I was exhibiting signs of stroke when I woke up at home .. whenever it happened, my brain fried a bit due to lack of blood / O2 and I am left today with blindness in my right eye and some other smaller deficits ). the After the surgery I went into the ICU and the MD staff told Karen “IF he survives this, he will never walk again”. My kidneys failed and I stayed in a coma for over a week. I had terrible psychosis while in the induced coma and it took a good few days or maybe even weeks for my mind to clear after waking up. I fought against anyone who touched me and tore out tubes and wires. When I did wake up, I had to be on dialysis every
day and seemed to be in a CAT scan or contrasting dye MRI every other hour. Somehow I made it out of there and into a rehab hospital and eventually home on Veterans Day 11-11-09.

Miraculously, my kidneys both started to function again and I no longer require dialysis.

Follow ups with UMASS Cardiology (Dr Robotis) showed that my repaired aorta had started to narrow and my heart function was pretty negatively impacted so he referred me to consult with Cardiology at Mass General (Dr. Eric Isselbacher and Patricia Riley) and they gave me the news that the repaired aorta was going to have to be redone. Dr. Thomas Macgillivray did an “elephant trunk procedure” on Memorial Day weekend 2010. They even managed not to laugh when I asked them “will you be using an actual elephant’s trunk to do it then” ?

Since the 2nd surgery, things have slowly improved. I used the following analogy to explain to my sister and it still holds true :

Imagine you’re living on the roof of a 100 floor building and one day you fall off but survive.
When you wake up the doctors tell you “you can climb back up and get your life back to normal but you can only go one step up every day”
It is a demoralizing thought but slowly and surely you climb up one stair every day.

A week goes by then a month then a year and you look behind and say “wow I’m not back to the top (my old life) but I am putting some stairs behind me”

That’s where I am now, somewhere between the ground and the 100th floor, glad to be alive with my family but still scratching my head wondering what’s going to happen next.