Name: Daryl Lilburn
Age at time of Dissection: 47
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 13 October 2013
Tell Us Your Story: Hi

My name is Daryl Lilburn, I am now 48 and work in the finance industry. I live in Sydney, Australia, and up until October last year one of my hobbies was long distance running – I had run six marathons over the past several years and was training for the Honolulu marathon in December.

Just for some background, I had had testicular cancer when I was 21. This was pretty extensive – there were tumors in my lungs, liver and lymph glands down my spine. The chemotherapy was very intensive but thankfully I made it through. I thought I had used up my “Get Out of Jail Free” card back then and had always assumed that next time in a life threatening situation I would not be so lucky. There were not at that time a lot of people who survived having cancer so extensively.

Part of my philosophy then was to keep as fit as possible. I traveled to Melbourne to run the Melbourne half marathon on Sunday 13th October 2013 as a sort of training run. I ran very well and was very happy with my time. That evening I went to the airport to fly back to Sydney. Just as I was sitting down at the airport terminal I felt a horrible feeling under my lower jaw, and a very uncomfortable indigestion like feeling in my chest. On a hunch I took out my iPad and googled “heart attack symptoms”. I got the shock of my life to find my symptoms matched and I should get help ASAP.

I rang my wife who was home in Sydney. She told me to go see the Qantas staff. As calmly as I could I walked up to some Qantas people and told them “Excuse me, I think I have heart attack symptoms”. They sat me down, kept me talking and called the ambulance. At this stage I thought it was probably just a muscular problem in my neck.

When I got into the ambulance my ECG was taken. The ambulance guy said “I don’t think you are having a heart attack but there is something funny on your ECG”. When I got to the hospital they took a quick CT scan. A doctor eventually came back and told me that I had a hole in my aorta, and that I only had a few hours to live if they did not operate straight away.

It was about 10 pm at night by this stage, and they had to call all the staff in to perform the surgery. I was told I would have to have a graft on my aorta from a vein in my leg, and that I may have to have an aortic valve inserted – they weren’t sure from the scan.

I called my wife and gave her a running commentary as I was being wheeled into theatre. This helped calm me down. The last thing I recall they were shaving my chest and the anaesthetist put the mask on.

The next thing I recall was a nurse saying “Daryl, its 4 pm on Monday – your surgery took 12 hours”. I was in ICU and my wife had flown down from Sydney. I recovered quickly from the surgery – far quicker than expected. The theory was I had done so much long distance running my brain was used to running on low levels of oxygen. The surgeon also told me my high level of fitness had probably saved my life.

I took six weeks off work as I recovered from the operation and got used to the fact I now had an artificial heart valve. I had been through a major life threatening illness before so I already had an appreciation for how precious every moment is – but over the ensuing weeks I still had nightmares and sometimes, in the evening, I would feel very afraid for no clear reason. I also had a lot of trouble coming to terms with how the heck I ever got two “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

I am not allowed to have my heart rate go above 125 bpm, and have restrictions on how much weight I can lift. Up until now, I have not been allowed to run, but since I was told I could walk as much as I liked I winded up walking 10 km or more per day.

The cardio finally told me I could run a couple of weeks ago (still observing the bpm limit). Its slow going, and I often have to stop to walk, but its a nice feeling to be out running again.

The cardio believes I have a genetic disorder that caused my dilated aorta (which I had no idea of until the aortic dissection occurred). She also thinks high blood pressure (for which I had been taking medication) probably contributed.

It has helped a lot reading the stories from other people on this blog, so I thought I would contribute my own. Would like to hear from anyone else with the same problem on their approach to exercise after recovery from an ascending aortic dissection. I now feel very good and as “normal” as I will probably ever feel. And good luck to all of you!