Name: Mike Sylvester
Age at time of Dissection: 46
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 17 December 2016
Tell Us Your Story:

My name is Mike Sylvester and I live in Duluth, MN. At about 9 p.m. on the evening of Dec. 16, 2016, I developed what I thought was indigestion. I have had stomach issues in the past, so I took some antacids, but the pain didn’t go away. After doing several web searches, I determined that I may have heart issues, something I had not ever dealt with in the past. My wife was working all night, and my stepson had gone to bed, so I drove myself to the emergency room (bad idea, even though I felt alert and had no other symptoms). After arriving at the hospital, they quickly transported me to the heart and vascular center, where they determined I had a minor blockage, and they were going to put a stent in my heart. They said it was a minor procedure, and that I would only be hospitalized for a day or two. At around 4 a.m., my wife sent me a text message asking where I was.

I told her I was at the hospital with the flu, and maybe a minor heart issue ( I told her to get some rest and to come to the hospital the next day). That was the last thing I remember, until waking up on New Year’s Day. What follows is what was told to my by my wife, family and the medical staff at Essentia Health:While I was coming out of anesthesia from the stent surgery on Dec. 17, my heart doctor (Dr. Joseph Doerer) noticed that I was nauseous, restless and in pain (I do not recall any of this). Evidently there was some discussion about whether or not these symptoms were from the anesthesia. Thank God, John Ritter and others that he recognized the symptoms of an aortal dissection and whisked me off to the CT Scanner as my sleepy and disoriented wife was left to wonder what was going on.

When I returned, they informed her that I had a very serious Stanford Type “A” ascending aortal dissection. I was prepped immediately for surgery, as my surgeon, Dr. Terry Olivas, informed my wife of the grim situation. I was given a 30 percent chance to live, at best. The surgery and recovery took 10 hours. The next two-plus weeks were nothing but a blur, thanks to my ICU delirium, caused by painkillers like Morphine, Fentanyl and others. The time consisted of horrific nightmares, hallucinations and paranoia, along with just a few memory fragments. I initially had liver failure, kidney failure and my lung collapsed.

I was taken off the ventilator and put back on several times. My digestive tract quit working, so they had to pump my stomach. I was given and antibiotic to which I was allergic (unknowingly) and my throat and tongue swelled. I was injected with steroids, so my blood sugar soared, at which point they injected by with insulin. I also ended up with a serious blood infection. I had tubes sticking out of my arm, stomach, neck and wrist. The days passed slowly for my wife and family, as the prognosis worsened. After two weeks, the surgeon told my wife I had “turned the corner.” I awoke a day or two later, thinking I had been out for a day or two. Much to my shock, it was New Year’s Day. Unfortunately, my muscles had atrophied so bad, that I could hardly lift an arm, much less get out of bed.

Two days later I was taken to intermediate care in a wheelchair, unsure if I would ever walk again. The medical staff assured my that my body would recover, but it was up to me to get back in shape. After the first day, I was given a walker. I went 10 feet and back before collapsing in a chair in my room. The next day I did two walks, then four, then eight. I soon had a chart with X’s recording my number of walks. After only five days, I was sent to a rehab and physical therapy center. I was told I would be there for two weeks. The therapy was brutally difficult. We got up at 7 a.m., ate breakfast, and then had therapy from 9 a.m. until noon. There was speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy. There were many times I felt like I was going to collapse or black out.

After the therapy sessions ended, I would spent time walking the halls, getting additional exercise. After four days, I was told that I was being discharged the next day. I walked out the front door of the hospital on my own on Jan. 11. I was told by the medical staff that I would be off work until the end of April, at the earliest, and I was immediately scheduled for 36 sessions of cardiac rehab. I worked hard in rehab and on my own to get stronger. My wife doubted I would ever work again. Six weeks later I was cleared to go back to work part time, and will be full time by the end of March.

The medical staff have given me a clean bill of health and said I will have no physical limitations. My only restrictions are in regards to my diet, which now consists of low sodium, low saturated fats and no alcohol. I now feel like a new man and am ready to start enjoying my life.