Name: Dan Bell
Age at time of Dissection: 64
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 11 September 2012
Tell Us Your Story:

On a beautiful Tuesday morning, Sept. 11th, 2012 my personal disaster struck. I was on the back deck around 10 AM, having coffee with my dog Pepper, and I suddenly heard what sounded like an old fashioned steam locomotive coming my way from my right side. I was looking around when another train sounded like it was approaching from the left side. At this point I was very apprehensive, as I knew something very bad was happening. A fluttering sensation in my chest convinced me that I needed help, and fast. I walked into the kitchen, picked up the phone and dialed 911, then I lay down on the floor (so I couldn’t fall down) and gave the operator my information. At some point I passed out, but I must have given her enough, because an ambulance came, and they took me (being a Kaiser member) to the local Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa, CA.
I wasn’t conscious and able to remember events again for the next 3 weeks. When I was lucid again, I learned that….

I had been taken to the Emergency Room and they had correctly diagnosed a Type A ascending aortic dissection, via CT scan, I believe. As there was no surgical team in Santa Rosa which could perform the repair, they decided my best chance was at the Kaiser Medical Center in San Francisco, where they had a surgical team well trained in the necessary techniques to do the repair. I was put in an ambulance for the 2 hr. trip to the City down Highway 101. I’ve since heard my condition on arrival described as ‘circling the drain’. Very close to death.

My dissection was repaired with a Dacron patch by Dr. Cain. I was on the table for almost nine hours and the whole procedure was complicated by the fact that I turned out to be allergic to Heparin, a drug used to prevent clotting. The fun fact is that when you’re allergic, the effect of the Heparin is to cause you to throw clots, just the opposite of the desired result. This would cause a clot in the right brachial artery (upper arm) to resolve into my fingers on the right hand, preventing blood flow and causing gangrene. The same issue affected all the toes on the left foot.

But that was for later. For now, it was ICU and coma and infection and dementia. By the time I was able to form coherent thoughts, it was 3 weeks later. I left the hospital a week after that, almost a month to the day after they dragged me out of the drain I was circling. I had a large scar on my chest, a bunch of inch long incision scars (cameras to check blood flow to organs)

I’m very grateful to all the doctors and nurses at Kaiser. And the other people who make that place run… the aides, the attendants. Both during surgery and recovery, they did a fabulous job for me. I’m grateful that my other organs were not compromised. Especially my brain. I’m grateful that my right hand was able to be salvaged, although I did have to lose the first two joints of four fingers. I’m grateful that I was able to keep the thumb. I’m grateful that I had a great plastics guy at Kaiser that was patient and helped me save four toes, so that I only had to lose half the big one. In short, I’m grateful to be alive.

Most of all, I’m grateful for my wife, Christine, who never doubted, never wavered in her love and support. She makes my world worth living in.