Name: Jack Paltell
Age at time of Dissection: 64
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 17 July 2015
Tell Us Your Story:

Stabbing pain, right side of chest and back, a tearing sensation in my chest, lightheartedness…not that bad, I thought to myself, must be indigestion.” A minute or so passed and the pain increased, I began to feel faint.” “Jeff,” I called out to my law partner in the office next door, “call 911, I’m having a heart attack.” And I passed out at my desk.

I don’t remember the paramedics arriving, or the ambulance trip to the hospital, or my wife’s arrival, or the priest giving me the sacrament of the sick, but I remember asking the doctors to try to save my legs which were numb, and the throbbing of the helicopter blades on the ride from Annapolis to University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore where the thoracic surgery team awaited my arrival, and where the intricate life-saving open heart procedure was flawlessly performed by Dr. Zachary Kon at 2am.

That was Friday night, July 17, 2015. On Monday morning, July 20, 2015, I was walking circuits around the ICU and trying to remember the words to the Gettysburg address. I had an ascending aortic dissection, and the emergency room physician, Dr. Kenneth Gummerson, correctly diagnosed it. He and my law-partner, Jeff Gauges, and of course, God, saved my life.

It has been two years since the event. I am well, but not the same. Better in some ways. Not as good in others. Wiser, more thoughtful, slower to anger, slower to judge. I weigh less, but am strong again. I can do pushups. My hypertension, which had plagued me since my mid-thirties is well controlled with medication and the DASH Diet. I lift weights, run, bicycle, hike, play music, and work at my law practice, but at a different pace than before. I understand more about love, I think, and care less about money; I do more work for charity and less work for wealthy clients; I say grace before I eat. Life is slower, I linger longer over a photograph or a painting in a museum. People mean far more to me than things.

The physiological journey has been relatively easy for me. I am married to a wonderful wife, I have great doctors and before the incident, I was comparatively fit. My body was able to handle the insult that is open heart surgery. The spiritual journey has been a little more complex; it has taken a little longer for me to accept my lack of control over my destiny and to simply permit God to guide me to the next destination.

I am hopeful that others will have the opportunity to benefit from excellent medical care and will perceive an aortic dissection as a message from God and your body, that something about your life needs to change. Many on this message board have used the same words. Very few of us get a second chance.