Category: Fifties Page 1 of 5

Geri Shufelberger-56

Date of AD=8/31/2017

Type of AD=Ascending Type A

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ello – I had a Type A aortic dissection repair August 31, 2017 at Baylor in Dallas. My surgeon, Juan MacHannaford, told me the dissection was from top to bottom. I was flown there from Pampa, TX due to the wonderful diagnostic abilities of my cardiologist in our local emergency room.

His quick action saved my life. I had a history of untreated high blood pressure for approximately 3-5 years before beginning treatment in October, 2013. When he saw me in the ER, I had experiences sever stabbing pain from my throat down to my stomach and almost immediately lost feeling in my legs. I also eventually had vomiting and lost consciousness.

My surgeon almost immediately from visual examination and I am not sure what other indicators, told me when I saw him a week after being released from the hospital, he felt 99% sure I have Marfans Syndrome. I am female, 6′ tall with a long torso, arms and legs.

I had a great uncle who had a aortic aneurysm in the 1960’s. That is the only family history I am aware of. Both of my parents are deceased and there are no other living relatives to talk to about this. I have had retina detachments in both eyes and a vitriol hemorrhage in one eye, all happening within 8 to 10 years intervals, starting when I was in my mid 30’s. I have two sons who are 6’2″ and 6’5″.

The surgeon has recommended genetic testing for them. I have changed my eating habits more than what they were, increased my exercise and made other life style changes, all thanks to a wonderful cardiac rehab program I have been attending since the surgery.

I will have a CT scan in 6 months and then once a year for the rest of my life. My scan October 26th, showed 3.2 in my abdomen and 3.4 in my chest. I know this is not something I should think about a lot, but I feel good about my future as long as I keep my scans up.

Are aneurysms common for someone in my situation? Thank you for any input you can give.

Answer from Dr. Liang:


I would certainly agree with your surgeons concerns about Marfan syndrome as a cause cause of the dissection. After the dissection the part of the aorta that is dissected beyond the repair is at increased risk for aneurysm formation so the regular CT’s recommended by your surgeon make sense. We also recommend very rigorous blood pressure control at this point to reduce the stress on the aorta.
Getting evaluated for a genetic cause of the dissection such as Marfan syndrome is very important, especially since you have children. If you can I would recommend seeing Dianna Milewicz at UT Houston.


Age at time of Dissection: 53
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 30 May 2017
Tell Us Your Story:

It all started after I was folding some clothes and I started walking up the stairs. I had this feeling of in pending doom and sat on the stairs and called out to my stepson call 911 .I knew since being a lpn for over 25 years not to go lay down or take an aspirin because this did not feel like a heart attack.

I woke up 3 days later in the cardiac unit at Pocono Medical center on a vent. The doctors keep me in a medical induced coma because they said I kept pulling on my wires and tubes coming out my chest and abdomen .I was also tied down with restraints and was on 1 to 1 supervision around the clock.

I was discharged home with visiting nurse service for six weeks. Then I went back in after the site in my groin area got infected for emergency surgery. then after 1 week, I went home with a wound vac for six weeks. I now go to cardiac rehab 3 times a week to get strong again. I went back to work at a nursing home as a charge nurse again on light duty.

I’m glad I can work but I must stay stress free and eat right and stay on my blood pressure meds to live .I’m on depression meds to sleep at night. I was wondering would medical marijuana help down the line then all these pills.

Any feed back would help. thanks to all the great care I received I’m glad to be alive.

Patricia Schultz-57

Name: Patricia Schultz
Age at time of Dissection: 57
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 10 September 2017
Tell Us Your Story:

On September 10th 2017 I went for my usual run hoping that day to run around 9 miles. Into the first mile while going up a short steep hill it felt like my heart was in my throat. I stopped and sat for a minute, drank some water. I got up and tried running again but I just didn’t feel right. Thought I would try and push it to mile three where I usually get in my groove.

My vision was a bit off and was still not feeling good. I decided it was best to stop and I started to walk back to my car where I ran into my husband who was exercising where I was running. I told him I wasn’t feeling good so we went home . My husband had plans I told him to go ahead with them. I still was not feeling the best.

I could not figure out what to do with myself. Within about a half hour my husband called and wanted to know if I wanted to go to the er. I said I thought that would be a good idea. After a few tests and MRI’S I was diagnosed with an ascending Aortic Dissection.

I was transported to the hospital where I had emergency surgery. They repaired my aorta and a valve. All went well. One day after the fluids were not draining properly around my heart and lungs so I to had to go back into surgery to have the fluids drained. Fast forward …… It has been five weeks and my recovery is going well. Cardiac rehab has me moving each day and I hope to be running in the near future!

Peter Passink-51

Name: Peter Passink
Age at time of Dissection: 51
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 12 April 2017
Tell Us Your Story:

Iam a 51 year old male. I have had excellent health my entire life. I have had no family history of any cardiovascular disease. My cholesterol and blood pressure have always been lower than average.

I took a ride on my motorcycle on a sunny afternoon, enjoying some spring weather after a long Colorado winter. This turned out to be a life saving decision, as I rode 40 minutes to Colorado Springs from the small rural town in which I live.

I arrived at a motorcycle shop, got off the motorcycle, and immediately began having significant symptoms. I felt a pounding in my upper back, trouble getting my breath, and some pain along my jawline. I kept thinking it would stop and could not figure out what was going on.

The only thing I could think of was “is this a heart attack?” I called my wife and we decided to call 911. I went into the shop to wait, and began to quickly deteriorate. I have only very slight memories of the time before the ambulance arrived and remember nothing after getting on the ambulance until waking up 5 days later in the ICU.

I was told upon waking how lucky I was to have been as close to a hospital as I was, and had I been home when the event occurred I would most likely have died. I had the dissection in the ascending arch of the aorta. I received no explanation for the cause of dissection.

Due to high possibilities of organ damage or G.I. tract damage, I was also “opened up” in the abdomen to be examined. I was 15 days in the hospital, and did 2 months of medically supervised cardio-rehab. It is now September 2017 and I feel back to normal.

I have some lingering fears of what caused this to happen and what, if any ramifications will result from this.

Bruce Berin-57

Name: Bruce Berin
Age at time of Dissection: 57
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection:  4 March 2015
Tell Us Your Story:

Iam a EMT for many years so this is a very strange story.  I purchased a California king mattress.  I needed a truck, so I drove to my buddies place of work talked with him and exchanged my car for his truck. (I don’t remember doing this).  I drove about 20 miles to factory loaded the mattress on the truck and drove home (remember this).  At home my neighbor whom was not originally going to help says come on lets do this, so we did took new mattress in and brought old one out. (I remember this).  I remember that the mattress did not fit in the dumpster and getting into the dumpster and jumping up and down to make it fit.  I remember making the new bed.

I don’t remember driving the truck to my friend and getting my car.  (He says we chatted a bit I have no memory of that).  I got home and my neighbor asked how I felt?  I said I was tired.  he told me that i looked terrible(Don’t remember).  I laid down I lost track of time, I would say this was about 2 or 3 in t he afternoon.  The next thing I remember waking up face down in the shower and the water running on my face and I was soaked.  I got up went into bedroom (remember this part) and from that part on I don’t. . I apparently called 911, my friends on the ambulance arrived saying that they thought I lived here my car was there but did not know the apt.  The door was locked.  The FD was calling for assistance to get in.. Days earlier I had made up with the neighbor to have an emergency key available. 

She obtained it and let the FD in. (Apparently I called 911 and then called her to let them in. I don’t remember) The ambulance along with the Paramedic loaded me into the ambulance.  I wanted to go to a local hospital Level 2.  It was closer, but something the medic didn’t like and he wasn’t sure.  So at the end of the driveway the EMTs asked which way?  Right to the Trauma center 20 miles away left to level 2 hospital 4 miles away.  The medic decided to go to the trauma center “something wasn’t right” vitals were good.  Enroute I asked why was it taking so long?  Then I began to complain of chest pain, so they began to speed up a bit more, and by the time they got to the trauma center the medic says he could hear the swishing in my chest.  (I do not remember any of this) in the ER a trauma was called, I remember the nurse  telling me that I had to go for a very serious operation. 

Ok I said, and I must have given them contact names from my phone and insurance information and signed the papers.  I don’t remember.  The thoracic surgeon thought I had a aneurysm which I had and he fixed.  As soon as the blood was turned back on I blew the repair and my aorta apart.  The surgeon did not expect me to live.  14 hours later he replaced my aorta and put me in to CCICU.  Where I stayed for 18 days.  I woke up what I thought was that day and did not understand why I wasn’t able to see and why I couldn’t talk.  I reached to see what was in my mouth and felt the breathing tube.

They yelled at me not to touch it. I had no idea why I was there or what happened I thought I was kidnapped.  I was trying to reason why I would have been.  the next time I woke up I remember the tube and grabbed it without saying a word and pulled.  (apparently I was in recovery the first time and the 2nd time I was in CCICU) I stayed in CCICU for 15 days, with that tube in my throat. I remember some things but not alot.  My family came to visit, I did not remember.  My friends tried I didn’t remember. My sister told me that 2 days afterwards I was complaining of pain and they had to bring me back into the OR.  At some point I went into Cardiac arrest 2x they put an external pacemaker on me.

I have no recall of any of this, I tried to communicate to no avail.  What I do recall was waking up and being told that I had been in the hospital for 5 days and that I thought I had a car accident with either my car or my friends truck. I tried to communicate via text but I was not able to get my fingers or hands to coordinate to the proper keys.  I tried a board where I could spell and wasn’t able to push the letters or spell the word correctly.  The nurses seemed to know what I was trying to say.  They explained to me what happened.

That I understood.  My family told me that I looked like I was hooked up to go to the moon. .I had over 12 lines going in and out.  I never saw my family there. 3 more days they removed the tube, I have no memory, and I recall being able to sit up.  My friend told me that I was in a chair in the room. .I don’t remember.  I went to a step down where PT tried to get me out of bed with 5 people supporting me.

I walked a bit but it was terribly painful. From my knees down they were black and blue, from the ankle to the toes they were black.  No hx of diabetes, it was from the blood being off for so long. I went to a rehab unit out of the hospital and stayed there 10 days before being discharged to home .  The rehab unit got me from walker to crutches to walking without assistance.  They helped me gain some of my strength and coordination. 

I wasn’t able to lift the electric razor to my face. I wasn’t able to cut my own food, I wasn’t able to brush my teeth, I had no coordination.  Eventually that returned.  I was discharged and home bound for 2 months.  Visiting nurse came daily and helped me wrap my feet and my neighbor took me to podiatrist whom after 2 months from incident had to amputate the tip of my big toe and the tip of the 2nd toe.

My color returned to my feet but I have some loss of feelings to my feet.  They feel like they are asleep. As time went on I was able to return to full work status.  I can no longer provide care on the ambulance, and I have loss of some short term memory.  I loose words that are common, and forget peoples names.  I have returned to the hospital 2x the following year one for rectal bleeding which I was in for 10 days.  They were going to do a colon resection with a colostomy bag for a year.  I was besides myself and the bleeding stopped.

I was in the Hospital for 5 days for kidney stone.  I have yearly cat scan.  They find that the aorta is good but the descending looks a bit distended and always causes concern except for the Thoracic surgeon.  My blood pressure has increased and they want to put me on b/p meds.  I am on coumadin and do monthly INR tests. But so far 2 years parts are holding. I am driving and ride my motorcycle and work full time.  I do not have the stamina I used to and probably should go to the gym.  My weight is a bit over by about 30 lbs.  Otherwise things seem to be good. .

Cindy Collins-57

Name: Cindy Collins
Age at time of Dissection: 57
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 25 December 2007
Tell Us Your Story:

On Christmas Day 2007 we were eating dinner and I started to feel strange. I didn’t know if I was having gastro problems or something else and went and sat on the toilet for a while. Nope. Went out to the living room….just bent over in pain….relatives called 911 and I was taken to ER. They ran EKGs…nothing wrong. Said probably just holiday stress and wanted to send me home. Then said maybe we’ll just keep you here overnight for observation. As they were taking me to a room someone decided maybe I needed a CT…next thing I knew I was being whisked into surgery. Type A dissection.

Fast forward to 2014. I was getting these blisters on my surgery incision that would open and drain. Dermatologist removed twice and then sent me to plastic surgeon. He removed a sternal wire and said if infection came back to see a thoracic surgeon

One year later….blisters return. I see a surgeon and he says I think we need to remove your sternal wires because they are probably causing all this infection. Well, I undergo surgery and when I come out he says….you have no sternum…it has been eaten away and I can see right through to your heart and your original repair. They take me by ambulance to Orlando.

Dr. come in at the end of the day (because they have me listed as “stable”) and says he will be operating on me the next day. I say…do you want to look at it…he says..OK…..Bad move. As he is removing the packing I start crying out in pain, his PA is squeezing my hand and then all of a sudden says…OMG is that ??? Dr. Martin says YES!!! and then there is the most excruciating pain ever imaginable in my chest. A pseudo aneurysm has just burst and he has his finger in it as we are flying down the corridor to surgery.

He replaces the old infected graph and repairs the new aneurysm. But my sternum has been destroyed by infection. So a week later I go back under the knife for a titanium sternum Then 6 weeks in rehab with a pic line.

Skip forward one year to May 2017. I go to see my cardiologist with no definitive symptoms …just a feeling. He says lets do a chest x-ray. What did your surgeon recommend? So I call the surgeon and he says lets do a CT.

Got the results back today and I will see him next Thurs. Unbelievable ….I have another pseudo aneurysm. I am totally freaking out. Can one person really have to go through this again?

Mike Rosellini-55

Name: Mike Rosellini
Age at time of Dissection: 55
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 5 December 2009
Tell Us Your Story:

I have read on these blogs stories from other people and their experiences and what to expect. My dissection occurred December 4, 2009. fortunately, I went to Baylor medical Center in Dallas where Dr. Carl Henry, thoracic surgeon was able to repair after a long surgery.

I was dissected thru the iliac arteries, and still am to this day. A section of the ascending aorta was replaced/grafted. My scan from a few months earlier had revealed a 4.3 cm ectasia of the ascending aorta. I have to keep my blood pressure under control, and no longer can run 8-9 minute miles like I was at 55.

However, at 63 years old I am still working in a profession I love and am looking forward to many more healthy years. If that does not happen, i am just thankful for the wonderful years I have had including the addition of 6 grandchildren in that time frame. so yes, I am also still dissected, I go in for regular scans to check for changes.

I have had excellent medical care. I quit worrying about life expectancy a few years ago. I hope this helps some newly treated patients. depression in the first year is a natural part of the process, it will go away if you continue to look forward and not backward.

Paul Coomer-53

Name: Paul Coomer
Age at time of Dissection: 53
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 13 October 2013
Tell Us Your Story:

Ihad a rear end accident which an hour after I realised I thought was a heart attack but was in fact an aortic -dissection type A ,I drove myself to the hospital on the Gold Coast in excruciating pain ,this was diagnosed thankfully very quickly and I was operated on within 5 hours by Dr Gilbert Ford a life saver I was in intensive care for 2 days then in Hospital for just over 2 weeks ,and 3 months off work ,then a further 3 months part time a long recovery ,I am now living a normal life with check ups once a year ,but I survived something that I have been told on many occasions is very lucky

Gayle Cook-56

Name: Gayle Cook
Age at time of Dissection: 56
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 9 February 2015
Tell Us Your Story:

My name is Gayle Cook and I LIVE in Albert Lea MN. On 2/9/2015, as I was getting ready for work, I began having severe chest pain. I work at the local hospital in ER Registration so finished getting ready for work and drove myself there, however, instead of clocking in for work, I was admitted to the ER. Six hours later after a CT scan revealed I had an aortic dissection, I was flown to Rochester MN.

I think I was aware of the severity of my situation, however, I was consumed with thoughts of my granddaughter, Kinley, who was flying to Chicago to have a REX shunt placed to bypass the obstruction (clot) in her portal vein. Her half brother, Carter, passed away from the same condition nine years ago when he was two. He underwent a liver transplant and, unfortunately, his heart failed two days after surgery. I am happy to say that Kinley survived her surgery and is doing quite well.

Unfortunately, as a result of the portal hypertension, she developed pulmonary hypertension that we are treating with meds. As for me, I was kept in the SCU over night in preparation for open heart surgery in the morning. Upon surgery, it was noted that I had an intramural hematoma which progressed to a type A dissection into the root with dissection into the left main coronary artery.

Well, you know the outcome of my surgery; I survived, but am still trying to wrap my head around what happened to me and the way I am now and it’s been ten months?! I have so much to say and ask but want to keep this short. Just wanted to introduce myself and reach out to someone who can relate to what I’ve been through. Thank YOU!

Jenny Dupuis-58 Husband’s

Name: Jenny Dupuis
Age at time of Dissection: 58
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 20 November 2015
Tell Us Your Story:

This is about my husband,Roy! He was rushed to the hospital and taken to surgery immediately!,for having a STROKE FIRST!!! Then after that surgery the doctors saw “something” and needed another surgery but this time open chest/heart.!!

I was in shock!! He had his gall bladder out a week before all this!!! He was paralyzed on the left side because of the stroke! But with PT and OT he is walking!!! No cane,walker,or any device! He does “tire”easily. I’m just over the moon he is alive with me still!! We just celebrated our 32 Anniversary on April 7,1984.! WE WENT OUT TO EAT, his was a grilled seafood platter and I had boiled craw-fish!.

I had left the house to run 2 errands, and when I walked in,there Roy was!! He had never moved but was alert and knew something was very wrong. After I saw he couldn’t move his his left side,is when I called 911!! Thank God we made it to the hospital as soon as we did!!

He was in and out of surgeries for over 12 hours!! He’s on a no salt diet or he can have a little dash! His blood pressure has to be on the low side. His tear goes down aways!!

Please contact me about anything else we can do to get the use of his hand and foot back.
God Bless you!!
Jenny Dupuis
He stayed in the hospital for over 2 months!!

Steve Wilmot-54

Name: Steve Wilmot
Age at time of Dissection: 54
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 16 January 2016
Tell Us Your Story:

My incident started on a Saturday morning with what I thought was a heart attack. I tried unsuccessfully to shake it off. Several hours later I went to emergency and spent 9 hours in an examination room having several ECGs and blood work. At around 900 PM I was told to go home get some rest and l should be back to work soon. I spent 3 long days and nights at home in a lot of pain but trying to get things done around home. On Tuesday I decided to go into town to get a prescription for pain killers filled. After the cab dropped me off I could barely get around I was so weak and in pain. I managed to make it back to the house and started getting dinner ready for my work buddies who were coming back soon.

At around 600 PM my right leg went numb and I was unable to put any weight on it. At around 700pm I had one of my work buddies drop me at emergency for the second time. The doctor that saw me this time knew I had something seriously wrong with me. He thought it may be blood clots in my leg. I was loaded in an ambulance for the 3 hour ride from Slave lake Alberta to Edmonton. We first went to the Grey Nuns hospital were I saw a doctor who felt I had no blood clots in my leg thought I should be CT scanned to see if I had blood clots in my chest. This is when my condition came to light and I was quickly loaded into another ambulance and rushed to the U of A hospital.

Things are somewhat blurry after this but my clothes were gone and I was in pre OP surrounded by the people who were going to save my life. I remember the surgeon telling me that the surgery he was about to preform on me is one of the most complex they do and that there is up to a 15% chance I would not make it. Well thank God and the great team of doctors and nurses, especially my surgeon Dr Mullen I came through surgery.

Recovery has been tough since leaving the hospital but I count myself lucky to have an unbelievable family to take care of me. Without their support I would be lost. It is 4 weeks yesterday since my surgery and I am still struggling to understand what has happened. Recovery is a long bumpy road. I’m so happy I have the support I believe I will make it..

Dave Mason-53

Name: Dave Mason
Age at time of Dissection: 53
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 16 June 2014
Tell Us Your Story:

I am currently 54 years old, 55 next month, and very lucky. My beautiful wonderful wife and I are both survivors of open heart surgery. She had a valve repair in her late thirties and I had an ascending aortic dissection in 2014 at the age of 52. I live in Sydney, Australia and this is my story.

I’ve read a number of the stories on this site about excruciating pain and terrible symptoms but I had little of that. I was out with two good friends for a golf game on a Saturday morning. There were supposed to be four of us but one had to pull out as he was suffering terribly due to kidney stones and couldn’t make it. We were all booked to have dinner that night with our four wives … the restaurant was understanding when we later cancelled! Anyway, while warming up for golf on the driving range, I sat down for a minute. One of my friends asked if I was Okay and I said “Yes, I just feel really … odd.” I was experiencing visual disturbances like yellow dots and had a headache but nothing serious enough to get in the way of a golf game. I also had an unusual tingling at the back of my jaw which may be the symptom which saved me.

We proceeded to play golf. We were walking the moderately hilly course and I was struggling a little. Not so much that I couldn’t walk or keep up, I just had continuous visual problems, some nausea and headache. For every shot I had to really focus on striking the ball at all which actually helped my golf! This particular course, Moore Park, comes back past the clubhouse after ten holes rather than the usual nine. My playing partners had been surreptitiously searching my symptoms on the web on their phones during the round but when we stopped at the clubhouse they had a better chance to read. They came back to me waiting on the 11th tee and said “We’re not willing to play the back nine with you. We’re taking you home!” Better friends, a man could never have!

It may have helped that I am a very big man (6’8” – 200cm and 115kg) and they didn’t fancy having to carry me back to the clubhouse from the course. Anyway, I didn’t feel good so I didn’t argue. We piled our gear back into the car and headed off. Meanwhile, one of them was on the phone to his wife who was able to search for my symptoms on a full-sized computer and she said “No, no! This sounds like a heart attack! Take him straight to the hospital!”. So we made a detour and dropped into St Vincent’s Hospital Emergency. One of my friends came in with me to tell them that they suspected a heart attack as I was still not feeling that bad and thought we were probably overreacting.

The hospital agreed that I was suffering a “cardiac event” but that my heart appeared to be behaving so they put me under observation and sent me up to a ward. There I stayed until Monday. One of the common questions I kept getting asked was “What is your pain level on a scale of 1 to 10?”. Now, I’ve had multiple knee surgeries and I had to say, relative to post-operative knee surgery pain as a “10”, I had pain of about 2 or 3. My wife Julie kept saying after they left “You have to say ‘6 or 7’ or they won’t take you seriously! I’m really worried…”. Who knows what they would have done if I’d been in more pain. As it was, they gave me some pain relief and I waited until Monday when there were more specialists at the hospital.

On Monday morning, I was sent to a cardiologist for an angiogram with a view to perhaps needing a stent. This is done without much anaesthetic through an artery in the thigh so I was awake. After a while I asked the doctor,

“So, do I need a stent?”

“I don’t know”, he said “I can’t push past this to get in there … you’re having an aortic dissection.”

I’d never heard of this, so I asked “What does that mean?”

“It means you need surgery.” He replied.

Well, Julie’s heart condition had been monitored for years until it was decided that she needed surgery. Then there was weeks of planning and preparation for the scheduled event. So my next question was logical.

“How soon?”


Suddenly things started moving very very quickly. They just about yanked the angiogram tube out of my leg. There were people shouting on the phone and I was being rushed down hallways on the hospital gurney with fluorescent lights flashing over my head. Soon, Julie was right there crying and a new doctor was peering down at me with a concerned look. He turned out to be the surgeon. He flashed a consent form in front of me to sign. “Dr Paul Jantz” I read. My son Tim went to school with a boy called “Jantz”, I bet they’re related … but I guess this is not the time to ask. I signed. (Paul turned out to be the uncle of Tim’s schoolmate). Before they wheeled me away, I had only a moment to talk to Julie. “I’m really sorry” I said. She looked so upset.

So, about 20 minutes after that word “NOW!”, I was in theater and going under a general anesthetic.

At this point, I have to say how incredibly lucky I had been up to this point. My very good friends saved my life by taking minor symptoms seriously and making me go to hospital. If this had happened at home I would have likely waited it out. The nearest hospital was St Vincent’s which happens to be “Cardiac Central” in Sydney although there are many fine hospitals. When my dissection was discovered, Dr Jantz was available and he just happens to be probably the best surgeon in Sydney for this particular operation. I don’t know what he planned to do that Monday but he spent the next 10-12 hours operating on me. He “re-seated” my aortic valve and replaced the arch of my aorta with a Dacron graft extending over the top past the subclavian arteries.

The next I knew I was waking up in a darkened room. There were some things wrapped around my calves which expanded periodically to “hug” or compress my legs. My first thought was “That’s clever. I bet they’re to prevent deep vein thrombosis!” My next thought was to take in my surroundings and to see what was going on. There was a nurse there periodically attending to numerous “machines that go beep” so I knew I was in ICU. “What time is it?” I asked the nurse. “Oh!” she said, “You’re awake.” And then checking her watch, she said “It’s 6am on Friday morning.”

I took that in for a moment and then said “So, I’ve been out all week?”. “Yes” she said “they had a bit of trouble closing you up.” The next thing I wanted to do was to phone Julie. They brought me a phone. Well, what a week it had been while I “slept”! Although there was a controlled stream of visitors that day, I discovered over the next few hours that my friend Bas had come over from New Zealand (a 3 hour flight) to help Julie and the boys. My son Tim had been fielding so many queries about my condition that he’d set up a Facebook group for people to go to. This had about 90-100 members by the time I came out of the induced coma and had over 125 members in the end. People from every place, every pursuit and every stage of my life were interested and caring. There were people from Europe, the U.S., Canada Australia and New Zealand.

There were family, work colleagues, childhood friends, basketball team-mates and social acquaintances. The amazing care and support was and is just overwhelming. Everyone should have a brush with death like this to find out how lucky they are that so many people in their life care about them!

I spent the next few weeks in hospital. My condition was exacerbated because I had a couple of strokes at some stage too. I think I had every test associated with cardiac issues or stroke that a hospital can do. Some were unpleasant, most not too bad. I slowly started to sit, stand and then walk within a few days and gained strength gradually for months. When I first woke I was full of fluids and had ballooned up to 120kgs. I quickly dropped to 104kgs over the next few days and Julie was worried that the normal sized hospital meals were insufficient. They started offering double servings and I did regain my normal 110-115kg weight.

The first couple of weeks I couldn’t really sleep. I was very lucky that the soccer World Cup was on. Normally I wouldn’t have been interested in a 4am match between Costa Rica and Cameroon or something, but it saved me from looking at a ceiling! After about a month I suddenly realised that I could read again. I hadn’t really noticed but up until then, although I could read the words, I couldn’t hold a full sentence in my head to make sense of it while reading. Apparently this is not unusual after major surgery. Anyway, after clearing that hurdle I was able to find out lots more about what had happened to me.

So, 40% of people with aortic dissections don’t make it to the hospital. Then there is about a 1% per hour death rate. I arrived on Saturday and waited until Monday. Hmmm … 50% chance of dying at that stage? Then about 10-15% of people don’t survive the surgery. Wow! I am a very very lucky man!!

After five or six weeks I came home from hospital. Some wonderful friends had been putting Julie up in their home closer the hospital. Our dogs had been in a kennel for a month. One of my sons had had his university exams delayed and had to sit them all on one or two days. My other son, who works in a different hospital, had been up and down from Sydney’s North Shore to St Vincent’s in and around his night shifts. Life slowly, very slowly, returned to normal.

I was off work for 3 months. Then I made arrangements to go in at first 2 days a week, then 3 right up until Christmas. In January, six months later, I started work five days a week again. I am an IT consultant so my work is sedentary but can be across various sites. My employer was very understanding and, fortunately, I had disability insurance which covered 75% of the time I was not working. I used up all my sick leave, all my annual leave and then used leave without pay. But we made it.

My return to physical activity was slow. I did about two or three months of cardiac rehab from September to November and I aimed to play golf again by Christmas but didn’t make it until January or February. I played in cart and was careful not to over-exert myself for quite some time. However, about a year after the surgery Julie came with me to talk to one of my doctors. She had a couple important questions as she wasn’t convinced that I was taking enough care. I had a win and a loss!

Q1 “Dave wants to walk the golf course instead of using a cart. Isn’t that a really bad idea?”

“No,” the doctor said “exercise is good and if he walks he will hopefully keep the weight off more easily.”

Q2 “Well, he shouldn’t be drinking alcohol should he?”

The doctor looked at me and asked “Well how much would you drink?”. I’d had a win on the first question so I thought I’d aim high.

“I only drink occasionally and then maybe 4 or 5 beers … ?

“What?!” said the doctor, “ONE drink! Never more than one. It raises your blood pressure and you have to be really careful.”

I was happy with that outcome. Walking golf like I used to and almost no drinking. A very very small price to pay for being alive! The other changes to my life include a handful of pills morning and night to “aggressively manage blood pressure” as the literature says. I could/should exercise every day. I do make sure that I at least walk, swim or golf but it is hard when work gets in the way. I sleep now with a CPAP machine as it turned out I was having sleep apnea … just one more small indignity. I see my cardiologist Dr David Gray about every six months (he has been Julie’s cardiologist for 15 years) and I see a blood pressure specialist Dr Mark Penny about every couple of months. He does most of the medication management along with my GP Dr Andrea Peiser. I’ve actually cut down on the number of doctors I need to be seeing!

My ability to exercise is nearly what it was just prior to the “event”. I have more trouble with one of my knees than with the effects of the surgery. My sternum has completely healed and I have no problems swinging a golf club. My zipper scar is pretty impressive but will continue to fade (after 12 years, Julie’s scar is all but gone). My sex life is nearly normal, notwithstanding the effects of statins and beta blockers. These are things which a large proportion of people my age are putting up with.

The pathology of my dissection indicated that it was almost certainly genetic. I have been examined for Marfan’s but, apart from being much taller than average, I don’t have many Marfanesque characteristics. I’ve had a sample taken to do genomic tests as apparently about half of the other genetic conditions that can result in aortic dissection can be identified. These have not come back but if they do find something specific then my sons (and I guess some of my other relations) can have a test for that specific genomic marker. Otherwise they just need to have the size of their aortas checked every 3 or 4 years.

So, now it is 18 months later. My life is not the same but it is relatively normal. I love my life. I love my wife. I love my two amazing sons. Perhaps partly through our medical adventures Julie and I have inspired our sons to pursue lives in medicine. Pat is a wardsman (orderly) and is finishing his degree in Nursing this year (he changed from Engineering!). Tim is in Med School and hopes to be a heart surgeon. Perhaps it was all destined to be this way!

Joe Nucci-58

Name: Joe Nucci
Age at time of Dissection: 58
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 2 September 2009
Tell Us Your Story:

Hi..Here is my story–I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and was taking meds for that for about a year before my aorta dissected. One day my blood pressure spiked to 180/100 and my doctor upped my blood pressure meds. Three days later I was at work at the main post office in Rochester,NY at 11:30 in the morning. I was a window clerk in the middle of doing a passport application for a very beautiful lady when I began to sweat profusely and got faint.

The woman was finished with the passport and just left my station when I got a sharp stabbing pain in my chest which knocked me to the floor. One of my coworkers helped me to my feet and with his help I made it to the manager’s office nearby. My left side was completely numb at this time. I sat there for a few minutes until I got my bearings back. I still felt faint and was asked if I wanted to call 911. Because it was noontime and the place was very busy I declined and wanted to try to sit there until whatever it was had passed. Another coworker insisted that she take me to emergency if I did not want to call 911.

Together we walked to her car and about 15 minutes later I was in the emergency room. They took me right in and gave me the usual exam as if I was having a heart attack. I told the doctor that it seemed that my pain was above where my heart is. They told me that my blood pressure then was 210/125 and put me on iv with to stabilize. They then told me after my pressure had subsided that the plan was to monitor me and I was to take a treadmill test to see if I had blockage in my arteries. Now after about 7 hours the attending gave me nitro pills to see if the pain would go away. after 7 nitro pills a different doctor ordered a cat scan. I asked for some water because they hadn’t let me eat or drink anything yet.

I took a sip of water and immediately a sharp pain hit me in the chest. I was rushed to radiology and after only 1 trip into the cat-scan unit which took only about 10 seconds I was talked out and a doctor came to tell me that a surgeon was on the way. I asked what was going on and when the surgeon got there within a minute I was given a permission form to sign. The surgeon then told me that my aorta had just dissected and surgery was “emergent”..a word I had never heard before. I texted my daughter in law in Phoenix and the text said aorta dissection–going to surgery. She is an RN and told my son they had to get to Rochester asap and I would probably be gone when they arrived. I was taken to surgery and Dr. George Hicks at Strong Memorial Hospital saved my life!

The next thing I knew I was in intensive care recovery and when I opened my eyes there was applause in the room that I was awake. Dr.Hicks visited me in my room the next day and when I asked him how lucky I was he told me that I had just hit the lottery–twice! He put in a graft of my ascending aorta.

He told me that the dissection actually occurred while I was in the cat scan and that probably was why I had survived. I was out of work for 7 months and went back to work against my doctors’ advice. There were so many restrictions put on me that I had to retire in 2012.

Now I have been told that my abdominal aorta is compromised and as long as my blood pressure is controlled I should be ok. This is a long story but my life changed dramatically that day. I am still here!!

Jim Fahlman-52

Name: Jim Fahlman
Age at time of Dissection: 52
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 1 October 2014
Tell Us Your Story: Type A Aortic Dissection

My name is Jim Fahlman, I was 52 years old at the time of my surgery. I have a girlfriend Jacqueline and 2 children, my son Deron (23) his wife Kelsey and also my daughter Shelby (21). I live in Regina, Saskatchewan Canada but Lived in Weyburn Sask. at the time of my surgery.

It all began on Oct 1/2014. I returned from my day at the office at 5pm and started my 10th day of a 21 day cardio workout as Jackie and I had wanted to get in better shape as we advance into our 50’s and want to live a healthier life style. During my 30 minute DVD workout it was like someone stabbed me right in the upper chest and I dropped to my knees gasping for air. I couldn’t talk or catch my breath so I text Jackie “I can’t breath”(as she just assumed that I must be having a heart attack) and she immediately called my daughter in-law Kelsey to come over to check on me and get me to the local hospital which serves a community of 12,000.

They checked me over (X-ray, ECG, blood test, etc.) and determined that it wasn’t a heart attack but instead possibly a hiatus hernia. So after 12 hours of observation they sent me home the next day at 11 am.

The next day my chest pain had returned but it was more gradual and more of a numbing pain and very laboured breathing. I was driving at the time so went directly to the emergency room (after a quick stop at the fruit stand) as I was only 2 minutes away and they did the same tests. Again all proved negative and after another 6 hours they again sent me home.

I spent the next 2 days in Regina which has a much larger hospital with a high quality Cardiac care facility. On Oct 5th we had return from church and shortly after the numbing chest pains returned and Jackie took me to the Regina General Emergency and they went through the same test as the previous Weyburn hospital. After 3 hours of inconclusive tests, they finally asked if we were on any lengthy road trips lately. We had just gone to Denver (18 hour drive) for a football game. So they immediately did a CT Scan thinking I may have a blood clot.

I returned to the ER 20 minutes later where Surgeon Dr. Mustapha greeted me and informed us that I have a tear in my aorta and that I require emergency open heart surgery or I wouldn’t make the night. He also explained to her the severity of the operation and that there was a high chance of me not making it through the surgery.

He allowed me to call each of my kids for what could possibly be one last “I love you”. I then gave Jackie one last kiss then off to the Operating Room. I then underwent a 10 hour surgery to repair my Type A Aortic Dissection. They were able to repair my valve but replaced approx. 2 inches of aorta just above it. After a few complications (internal bleeding) they left me in an induced coma for the next 30 hours to assist in recovery. All went well over the next 10 days and I was released on Oct 15th.

It’s been a very slow recovery as I am still limited in what I can physically do. I am currently on long term disability and will continue to remain there until after the recovery period of my next upcoming surgery which will be more severe than the first.

I continue to have quarterly CT Scans as the next 10 inches of my aorta (aortic Arch right down to the bottom of my heart) is still enlarged and will be replaced once it hits the 6 cm (diameter) point. This could be in 1 month, 1 year or maybe even 2 years, depending on how fast the diameter of my aortic arch aneurysm continues to leak and expand. They were not able to repair this piece as they needed to get out after 10 hours during the first surgery.

Also this next surgery will need to be performed at the Mazinkowski Heart Institute in Edmonton, Alberta as it is too complex for our local Cardiac Unit.

A big thank you to Dr. Mustapha and his surgical team for an amazing first surgery and care to this point. The entire hospital stay was 100% positive as each and every doctor, nurse or hospital staff member I have encountered provided exceptional care and service.

As well a big thank you to my gal Jacqueline and our family, friends and co-workers for all the love, prayers and care they provide as it truly is the best medicine (along with the 3 blood pressure medications that I’m currently max’d out on).

One of the largest challenges that I have encountered is to find my new normal as even though life will never be the same you can still appreciate it….even more than before.
God Bless….Jim F.

Rex Dale-59

Name: Rex Dale
Age at time of Dissection: 59
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 15 September 2015
Tell Us Your Story:

Saturday, Came home from work. Took a shower and a little nap. I dream I was back in the hospital with my torn aorta. It’s been two years and I still dream about that day. My story is the same as everyone on this page. By the Grace of God I made it! The pain, scared, prayed, and cuss. The friends and family that was there I seen through my glasses pain, I love you! And this web sight.

After three weeks in ICU. When I got home and look up a torn aorta, one, I knew I was that sick! You would think after three weeks in the hospital you would get it! It wasn’t until I read about and how close I came to death! And Finding this web sight!

Seeing I wasn’t alone bought joy to my poor old heart! It’s been almost two years! Tell people to get their blood pressure check! If you have high blood pressure take your meds! I use too belong to the church of AIN’T GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME! Well! It did! I want to thank all you that have wrote your story on this page. You ha
ve given me HOPE! By the way!

Not one day did I laid in bed afraid to,,, LIVE ! Don’t you be. As we know life is too short! Go live your life! GOD Bless!

Rex H Dale

Tiger Keel-56

Name: tiger keel
Age at time of Dissection: 56
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 6 January 2015
Tell Us Your Story:

Hi, my name is Tiger and I am very glad to be here today to tell my story! I am 56 and pretty healthy. I did not take any prescriptions of any kind, no blood pressure issues, no cholesterol issues, no diabetes etc., pretty healthy!

On Sunday, January 4, 2015 I attended my parents 50th anniversary party with friends and family, had a great time and felt great! On Monday, January 5th I helped a friend move some furniture from one room to another and spent some time visiting then drove the 2 hours back home to Columbia, S.C.

Tuesday morning I arrived at work ( I am a nanny) feeling great and ready to play and sing with the 2 little ones. After lunch the 2 year old was down for a nap and I was giving the baby a bottle after which she fell asleep in my arms so I continued to sit and let her sleep. About 1 1/2 hours (2:15pm) later I felt a sudden wave of “almost panic” , black spots were swirling in front of me, I got very flushed on the right side of my face and chest ( in fact there was a very clear distinction of the 2 halves of my body, one being normal and the other being beet red) and could feel the heat radiating off the flushed side.

I have never passed out before but at that precise moment I knew either I was going to pass out or die……something was terribly wrong and I had no clue as to what it was! I put the baby on the floor so I would not drop her and called my sister to let someone know that I was in trouble……I called 911 next and asked for an ambulance to come quickly as I had already decided I was going to die.

Unlike everyone else I have read about I had absolutely NO pain and NOTHING to make me believe I was in such a critical state! I did have a shortness of breath and did not want to talk so I hung up on the 911 operator after giving him the address. By the time the ambulance arrived my lower jaw was hurting so bad that if I could have unhinged it and tossed it away I would have. This was the ONLY pain I felt so I assumed I had Lockjaw!
I knew it was not a stroke since I could stick out my tongue and smile and it did not feel like any heart attack pain that I have ever read or heard about.

After being in the emergency department for several hours while they tried to find a problem and came up empty handed they started talking about sending me home…….I said “I am not leaving until you find out what is wrong with me”!

They ran all the usual test and the CT scan showed something they were not able to handle so they told me they were going to transfer me to the Heart Hospital in downtown Columbia where a surgical team was being assembled and I was going into emergency surgery for a Type A Aortic Dissection. I did not know what that was but knew time was of the essence!

My husband called everybody and told they to come quickly because he was told the survival rate was about 10% at that time.

I had decided I was not going to make the ambulance ride, but I did and the moment I saw the surgeon and the anesthesiologist standing there I knew I was going to be ok! He said he had a good dinner and a lot of rest so we should be good and he kept his promise to me!

I went into surgery at 8:45 pm and he finished up at 4:30 am January 7, 2015.
I stayed in the hospital until January 16th and was walking everyday, sometimes much to my dismay but the nurses were relentless and insisted on breathing and walking!

Thursday, February 5th, 2015 I went to meet with the surgeon for the first time since he and God saved my life, and all is good! I can drive again and resume most of my normal life. Cannot go to work for a couple of months but I am ok with that! Everything takes a little longer to do than before and I still get winded if I talk too much or overdo it but I am happy to be alive.

Dr. Scott Petit is the bomb! Not to mention Dr. Baird for diagnosing the problem and getting to the right place at the right time!!!

It has been one month ago today that I awoke from my Dissection surgery and I feel good! Only taking an aspirin and one blood pressure medicine per day, no restrictive diet and plenty of walking! Going to do some rehab just to make sure what I do counts.

Thank you Brian for this site, for all the info and for telling people not to leave the hospital if they are not 100% comfortable with their situation!

Good luck to everyone and anyone may contact me at any time.
My e-mail……I will respond !
Thanks for “listening” to me…..if something feels wrong it probably is and go with your instincts!!!!!!!!
Glad to be alive, Tiger Keel

Stephanie DeHart-55

Name: Stephanie DeHart
Age at time of Dissection: 55
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 26 April 2014
Tell Us Your Story:

I actually had an SMA dissection 16 days after a bad fall.

I slipped and fell hard – 4 days later I felt myself prolapse- unreal
I had a3rd degree rectocele and urogyn posted me for posterior vaginal repair Then

16 days after I fell (and 10 days before my scheduled pelvic surgery) I felt a fullness like maybe I prolapsed further so I saw the urogyn who said everything was fine.

The next morning I was awakened at 5am in a pool of sweat and had the most searing stabbing horrible upper abdominal pain which radiated around to my back. I could only walk doubled over. I was also massively nauseated.
I went to my primary care doc who thought it was a kidney stone but CT showed SMA dissection.

I was taken by ACLS ambulance and admitted and given pain meds around the clock to relieve my agony. I was also placed NPO (for 3days)

On day 3 CT showed dissection worse.
So I was taken to OR -before I went the priest gave me last rites.
They went through my groin & 2 overlapping stents were placed in a 4 hour emergency surgery.

It took longer than usual I was told because I have a “replaced right hepatic artery” which is why they put 2 stents in the SMA. It also means if that thing blew then my liver would have been annihilated along with my small intestine. OMG

Anyway I went home the next day! And then one week later had my posterior vaginal repair.
I’m alive! And glad to be here as I have 3 children to raise by myself.
I feel good and am being followed every 6 months with an ultrasound to check stent flow.

So far so good and dr is saying 5 year out is pretty good but I’ll need some ballooning probably
I am 56 years old and wish I knew of someone else who has been through this. From what I hear this is so rare that there aren’t a whole lot of documented cases.

William Vickers -53

Name: William Vickers
Age at time of Dissection: 53
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 2 October 2008
Tell Us Your Story:

I had my ascending aortic dissection in Oct ’08. I had surgery, with a hemashield graft placed in the ascending aorta. I never went back for any post ops (denial) until I had abdominal pains Jan ’14. I had two CT’s at the #1 heart hospital in GA with contrast performed. A doc told me that I was a rock star, that the X-ray viewing room was filled with docs standing in silence with their mouths open when my CT’s were put up.

I pulled up my records yesterday, and now I see why. My aorta is dissected from my neck down to my thighs ( could be higher and lower, but the CT didn’t go there). My graft is leaking, and has an inch thick clot around it. Usually the dissection cuts off blood supply to the branches it passes. But my lungs, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, and intestines are performing fine.

It’s the worst dissection I’ve ever read about. Go figure. Pray, as I do daily. I carry my bible in my car, me and God are buddies. Still working. Going for my brisk walk now. There’s hope for all, is the point of this post.

UPDATE: 2/25/2015:

I have posted in the age 50’s forum as William Vickers previously.

I had a type A aortic dissection 6 yrs ago. Repaired with a graft, but was ‘just too sick’ in the medical report to replace the aortic valve. I was not expected to survive.

This past Thanksgiving eve, I felt pain in my right chest, came home from work, and that’s about all I remember. I live 60 miles from the #1 ranked heart surgery hospital in GA, so I was helicoptered there. My aorta was leaking when I got to the hospital at dark, Dr Clifford Hastings is suppose to be a top heart surgeon. He immediately put me in surgery, opened my chest, and when he did, my aorta burst. I lost 2 L of blood. Dr Hasting didn’t think he could do much for me, but he worked on me for 6 1/2 hrs. He put did a graft, and also replaced the aortic valve.

I was treated in the Ronnie Green Heart Center at NGMC in Gainesville, GA. Ronnie died of a dissection in 2001. He donated the money to build the new heart center. He was my cousin, related through both his mother and father.

I stayed in the ICU there for almost a month. I was on a ventilator for 3 weeks. I would start gagging everytime they tried to take me off it, so they did a trach tube and a feeding tube to my stomach. Then I got some kind of severe infection in my right arm, and was put on Vancomycin IV drip. I don’t remember any of that.

I was moved to a nursing home wing with about 50 very disabled patients in wheel chairs. Most were obviously fixing to die. Most had dementia and sat with their mouths open. I stayed there for over a month. I volunteered for occupational, physical, and speech therapy. I was pretty disabled for about 2 weeks, the mental tests I took showed it. For some reason, I just got a lot better after the first 2 weeks. I became the only patient that didn’t wear a diaper, I was the only patient that could walk, and go into a bathroom.

I retook the mental tests at week 5, and scored almost perfect. I threatened to go home AMA if they didn’t let me out, but I agreed to wait over the weekent till the Dr in charge dismissed me. I walked into the conference room for my exit interview, and they all agreed I was OK to go home.

My question is……have you ever heart of someone with a previous type A dissection, surviving an aorta burst?????? I know most people die before they hit the floor.
My aorta was leaking on the helicopter ride, but it burst when he started the surgery. Dr Hastings said I almost bled to death. My brother said I’m just lucky to be in the right hospital, with the right surgeon, at the right time.

I would like to know if you or any doctor knows it anyone else has survived a burst.

Kenneth Lucas-50

Name: Kenneth Lucas
Age at time of Dissection: 50
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 16 August 2011
Tell Us Your Story:

I was working the night shift in a well known grocery store chain. I worked alongside my wife when I started having chest pain along with pain in my left arm. I began perspiring profusely and felt nauseated. My wife had me sit down, and she immediately called 911, fearing that I was suffering a stroke. Paramedics assessed me at the scene and then transported me to the hospital, just minutes away. After a CT scan, I was taken into emergency surgery. After many attempts to repair the aortic dissection, the surgeons were successful.

My chest was left open for about 24 hours to insure I was free of any infection. When I finally woke up, I realized I was left with a severe case of footdrop. The doctors told me that was common with descending aortic dissection, due to lack of blood flow to the lower extremities. Doctors told me later that in another 2 minutes after the dissection I would not have survived. While I’m thankful for everything they did for me, my quality of life has suffered greatly because of the foot drop.

I now walk with the aid of a cane, and cannot stand or walk for long periods. I have since had an artificial aortic valve, aortic root, and implantable cardiac defifrillator installed.

Henry Stephens-56

Name: Henry Stephens
Age at time of Dissection: 56
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 12 May 2014
Tell Us Your Story:

My adventure starts on the morning of May 12, 2014, in Vero Beach, Fla. It was a Monday. But I expected a fairly low-stress day ahead.

Got to work about 9 a.m., made a few calls and decided to head to City Hall.

I never made it.

About 11 a.m., I got in my car in the parking lot and immediately felt the strangest pain I’ve ever felt. It was like repeated mallet blows to my throat, just above the collar bone. I had no reference for this pain. It was not any of the heart-attack warning signals.
I was scared.

What I should have done: Immediately call 911 from my cell phone.

What I did: Behave like a guy. I figured if I just took things easily, drove very slowly to City Hall, this odd pain would go away and life as usual would resume.

What God did: Remind me who was in charge.

No sooner had I driven out of the parking lot than I realized I wasn’t going to make it anywhere. I pulled off the road and drew out my cell phone to call 911.
But by then, my eyes were so watery I couldn’t focus on the keypad.

I thought, OK, I’ll get out into the fresh air and try this again. I opened my door and tried to get out. But my legs were as weak as water. I couldn’t stand up. Instead, I slid from the driver’s seat onto the grass.
And that was a good thing. If I had stayed in my car, nobody would have noticed for quite some time.

In seconds, coworkers or visitors recognized me, asked what was wrong. I said I thought I was having a heart attack. A few people called 911. In a minute or so, there were paramedics and an oxygen mask was put on my face. And that’s the last I can remember before passing out.

Mom says whoever got through on 911 was my guardian angel.

The very next thing I remember is a glimpse of hospital room equipment. So it was that serious? I thought. Then I drifted off again. Next, I remember the very same equipment at night, under the indirect light of the hallway. Guess it was that serious.

Apparently I was out for several hours in my room at Indian River Medical Center’s surgical intensive care unit. At one point, my cardiac surgeon, Dr. Mark Malias, came in with nurses and recited what had happened to me. It went in one dazed ear and out the other. But I remember he said it wasn’t a heart attack.

I learned later it was an aortic dissection. Malias patched me up with an artificial graft.
Nurses kept saying I had a “new lease on life.” Aortic dissections are rare, I was told, but surviving one is even rarer.

I was in the hospital until my discharge on May 20. And in a day when many surgery patients go home the same day, that length of stay tells me this was a Big Deal.

What the surgeons did was not technically “open-heart” surgery. They didn’t have to go into the heart. But they still had to spread the ribs open to work on the aorta.

Opening the sternum means I had a broken bone needing to knit back together, even after the heart was repaired.

Since being home, I have focused on relearning things I previously took for granted, such as breathing. I need to use a spirometer to exercise my lungs so they don’t settle on the volume they have when I’m at rest.

And I need to walk, at least 20 minutes a day. Sounds like no big deal, but it now means planning around the oppressive afternoon heat and dodging these frequent summer storms.

Even sleeping can be a task. I was normally a side sleeper, but now I must remain on my back. The one time I tried to roll over in my sleep brought a chest pain that woke me up and returned me to my back.

Through all this, my wife has been an angel. She has taken over my half of the chores, such as mowing the very weedy lawn and taking out the garbage. She has driven me when I couldn’t drive, walked with me, kept track of my numerous doctor and cardiac therapy appointments and dispensed the twice-a-day cocktail of prescription drugs.

And now, after 12 weeks of disability leave, I am about to return to work. And I have to remember: Pace myself, monitor that blood pressure, don’t go back to fast food for lunch, take healthier meals from home. … and pray.

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