Name: Romney Mawhorter
Age at time of Dissection: 48
Type of Dissection: Both Ascending and Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 7 November 2014
Tell Us Your Story: I was a 48 year old white man who had an aortic dissection deBakey I or Stanford type A who was very physically fit; a college track star and since then an avid gym rat going 6 days a week to lift weights and play basketball up to the day of my surgery. I have a wife of 23 (then 21) years and 3 sons who then were 18, 15 and 11.
Iam from Los Angeles. My wife and I were on a romantic weekend on Catalina Island. We had just taken a 2 hour boat ride from Long Beach and got off the boat and went directly to our hotel to check in. They said the room was not ready so we sat in the outdoor lounge overlooking the beach to have lunch.
After only a few minutes I felt a terrible crushing pain in my chest. It was so bad that immediately I told my wife, “I think I’m having a heart attack!” and proceeded to lay down. My wife described my “laying down” as passing out but I never lost consciousness.
I was helped by the couple at the next table who held my head up to help me breathe, stopped others from pounding on my chest, giving me water, or giving me an aspirin. They calmly told others to call 911 and waited with me until the paramedics arrived.
I was in the paramedics’ care for about 20 minutes with my wife waiting anxiously outside. They were testing me for a heart attack but could find no enzymes or other signals that it was a heart attack. I was unresponsive to glycerine.
At the small local island hospital, the doctor there was calling everyone she knew to help her diagnose what this incredible pain was coming from my chest. Finally she called my surgeon’s “aortic dissection hotline” which instructed her to perform a CT scan. When it was done, immediately the doctor could see I had “two” aortas running the length of where I should have one aorta.
This was a severe dissection from the aortic root to the legs including the left coronary artery and both carotid arteries all the way to the brain. A helicopter was scheduled to fly me to Keck USC Hospital.
On the roof being taken off the helicopter I could see the doctors running to receive me, and for a moment I juxtaposed my memory of the movie “A Few Good Men” when they astronauts came out of the elevator.
While on the gurney in the ICU the doctor was explaining to me all the risks of the surgery, as I still was a little confused as to what was wrong with me. I had survived now with this level 12 pain on a scale of 1-10 for the past 5 hours maybe this would just “go away.” So I interrupted the doctor and said, “can I live without the surgery?” He promptly replied, “no, this is a fatal event.” So I replied quickly, “then stop telling me about the risks and start the surgery!”
After 8 hours my wife was relieved to see the surgeon come out of the elevator and sit down next to her and said to her, “he’s going to be alright.” I remained in ICU for 3 days and released from the hospital in 7. He said my aortic dissection was the worst he had seen on a surviving patient. Immediately after opening my chest, my ascending aorta disintegrated as if it were wet tissue paper. After several minutes trying to determine some real tissue where to attach the prosthetic mesh, the assisting doctors and attendants said it was no use that I was beyond repair. But my surgeon persevered. He did have to forgo removing my aortic root and replacing my aortic valve with a mechanical valve (which I had elected) to save the time in surgery to “fix what was broken and save your life.” So I continue to be on the “probable” list of needing that surgery in the near future
Since then my health has been good, with the only ongoing complications are from my left carotid artery which has the most severe tear all the way to my brain, which slows my blood and causes some ocular muscle problems and once a stroke symptom (but no evidence of stroke found in any CT or MRI scans).
From this ordeal I learned that I must care what I eat. I must eat a low sodium, low red meat, high fiber diet and drink at least 4 8 oz. glasses of water, or better 8 glasses. The thinner my blood the better. While I do take a BP medicine, I only take it when my morning BP reading is above 120. My “normal” BP is 110. My dissection was not caused by hypertension. Doctor says it was congenital.