Name: Barry Willis
Age at time of Dissection: 65
Type of Dissection: Both Ascending and Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 30 March 2015
Tell Us Your Story:

My name is Barry Willis. I am a 66-year-old retired industrial chemist, living with my wife in Sydney, Australia. I have three adult children and two grandsons.
Last year, I suffered an aortic dissection and my life hung in the balance for more than three days, although my family and I were completely unaware of this at the time.

This is my story.
On the afternoon of 30th March 2015, at around 4:00pm, I was using the computer when I suddenly felt dizzy and experienced severe, sharp pain in the chest. I lay down and after a few minutes of the pain persisting, my wife, Penny, rang an ambulance, which took me to Concord Repatriation General Hospital in Sydney, Australia. I was initially treated for a heart attack by the ambulance paramedics and doctors in the Emergency Department.
During my admission, the pain persisted, with limited relief from morphine. Following a number of tests, including ECG, a chest x-ray and blood tests, I was advised by a doctor early the next morning that I had not suffered a heart attack, but that they were unsure of the cause of the ongoing pain. The doctors advised that I would be sent for a CT scan later that day, Tuesday 31st March. This did not happen.

Following inquiries by my family on the morning of Wednesday 1st April, a doctor informed us that the CT scan had been cancelled. The doctor also advised us that the CT scan machine was being serviced and I could not receive a CT scan that day. I’ve since been advised by Concord Repatriation General Hospital that they cannot explain why the CT scan was cancelled, and that contrary to the information provided by the doctor, there was an operational CT scanner available that day.

Nearly three days after presenting to hospital, and after experiencing constant, migrating pain which was never completely relieved by morphine, I underwent an abdominal CT scan on Thursday 2nd April at approximately 2:00pm. Soon after, I was visited by another doctor, who told me that I may be suffering from a Type B aortic dissection involving the descending aorta. I underwent the second CT scan, a CT aortogram at approximately 8:00pm, which revealed that I not only had a Type B aortic dissection, but also had a Type A aortic dissection involving the ascending aorta. I was then rushed to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA) for emergency surgery.

The following morning, after a longer than expected operation, my wife received a call from the surgeon to say that I was out of the operating theatre. He and his operating team then met with my family and informed them that it had been a very difficult operation. He explained it was “touch and go” as to whether I would survive and the next 24 hours would be crucial.

During the operation, I had to be returned to cardiopulmonary bypass due to uncontrolled bleeding and the surgeon had opted to delay chest closure until the medical team was sure the bleeding was controlled. Over the next two days, I was in an induced coma, while my family waited to see if I would survive. The bleeding slowed over the next 48 hours and on Sunday 5th April, I was returned to theater for the chest closure procedure. After the surgery, I gradually regained consciousness and commenced the long road to recovery.

For the rest of my life, I will be taking medication and undergoing regular scans to monitor my aorta which continues to dilate.