Name: Abbas R
Age at time of Dissection: 42
Type of Dissection: Both Ascending and Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 14 December 2014
Tell Us Your Story:

I was having a very pleasant flight till the The Worst Pain Known To Mankind hit me. I of course had no idea whatsoever what was really happening to me, and dismissed it seriously bad gas and/or indigestion. I had never suffered gas or indigestion as bad as this before, so the sneaking suspicion that something was very wrong continued to linger in my mind. The first thing I did was stand up, because I felt I needed air, and went to the back of the plane where the serving galley was. There I paced gently and tried to breathe deeply, and actually felt better as a result. We were still about 30 minutes from landing, and now I felt like I needed to lie down. I went to the restroom and improvised a bed, putting the toilet seat down and opening the baby change shelf so I could put my feet on it.

And I just lay there for about 20 minutes or so, and kept breathing slowly and deeply. Years of meditation really came to help at this point. When the pilot announced the plane’s landing, I walked slowly back to my seat, feeling much better thankfully. The plane landed in Dubai and I walked out of the plane and into the terminal eventually where I sat down again before immigration, and had a drink of water. When I went to stand in line at immigration, it hit again, That awful, terrible pain and the sweaty, sinking feeling. This time I knew I needed help. There were only 2 people ahead of me at immigration, and my turn came quickly, and before I knew it I was headed into the baggage claim area. That is where I collapsed, and summoned some airport staff over to me. They were fantastic, because within 2 minutes there were paramedics at my side, and in under 10 minutes I was on a stretcher on the way to an ambulance waiting outside.

I was passing in and out of consciousness on the way to the airport, but I think we reached there in under 10 minutes. Then I passed out till I was medically woken up ( i think) and found a grim-faced panel of doctors standing at my bedside. I was told then I had suffered a ruptured ascending aortic aneurysm, and a dissection all the way from the descending aorta down to the femoral branches. They gave me some statistics on how I had beaten the odds to be alive at this point, and that only surgery can give me another chance at living, no other options. I had to give consent, and I have no time to think about it, they said. Well… pretty cut and dry eh? So I signed off on it, and being given the survival stats etc, felt quite upbeat strangely. I remember saying “Lets do this!”, all gung ho about it.

Twelve hours later, I was wheeled out of the operating theater, still unconscious, on heavy sedation. I had received an aortic graft in the ascending aorta, and endovascular stenting in the thoracic and descending aorta. Over the next few days, I am told there were complications. My heart was not beating properly, my kidneys had shut down completely from shock, and there was a lot of fluid collection in my lungs. The few days were critical, but thankfully I survived. Had to get a few electric shocks (though I don’t know the logic of this straight after open heart surgery! Probably the only way to get it done….), and I was on dialysis for those few days as well. The heart started beating normally, and my kidneys came back online as well. I stayed in the ICU for 3 weeks, during which about a liter of fluid was drained from each lung. The first couple of weeks after surgery, I was also in quiet delirium as a result of post-surgical sedation. I can’t even begin to describe the
hallucinations I was having – they were so fantastically crazy.

After spending a few days in the ward post-ICU, I was discharged and went home for a more relaxed recovery (the ICU is a noisy, disturbing place, despite what ICU stands for…). It took my chest wounds and sternum about 2.5 months to heal. At first I wasn’t even able to sleep comfortably, as I felt I was unable to breathe while lying down. But eventually as the would and bone healed, it got better over the first week. I still felt those pings and twangs of awkward pain while moving around in my chest, but one day after about 2.5 months it suddenly went away. My chest felt absolutely normal. I had to re-learn how to walk, as I could barely get out of bed to even stand up in the hospital. It felt like I was dragging or balancing a ton of bricks on myself. This was probably due to the excessive sedation I needed in the week post-surgery. Upon discharge, I was able to walk, but just barely, and I would get winded after walking about 20-30 ft only.

But I kept trying, and slowly was able to build up my strength and balance over the next few months. I was walking a mile non-stop by about week 8 post-surgery. I then started doing stretches as prescribed by my cardiologist which helped tremendously with the back and shoulder pain and stiffness, which is to be expected.

Its now about 8 months after the surgery. I’ve started light weights and light cardio and walking is upto 5-6 miles without a break. I feel good. And I am thankful. It’s amazing what technological development has done for the medical industry.