Name: Gerry Raach
Age at time of Dissection: 51
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 24 October 2011
Tell Us Your Story:
My Aortic Dissection Monday October 24th, 2011 was just another work day. However, I went to work with a plan for leaving early after attending a 2:00 PM meeting close to my home. My plan was to work in the yard and enjoy the unseasonably warm 80º temperatures.
I got home at about 2:45 PM and went directly to the bedroom to change my clothes. I had removed my work clothes and was stepping into my shorts. About half way up I felt the worst pain that I had ever experienced! That pain was in my chest, it was sharp and burned. I began to sweat profusely. It was 2:50 PM.
I went to the living room, turned on the ceiling fan and sat down in a chair. At 3:00 PM I was still sitting and the pain was subsiding some. I took my blood pressure (I have a pressure cuff at to home to monitor my high blood pressure – controlled with medication) it was 110/64, extremely low for me. I knew that something was wrong!
My first thoughts were that history was repeating itself. My father had his first heart attack when he was about my age (51). My next thoughts were how should I get help? Call 911 and wait for emergency responders to get there? Drive myself to the hospital? I stood up, decided that I was clear headed and could drive. So, I threw on a shirt, got my wallet & car keys, found a pair of flip-flops and headed out the door.
I mapped out my path (in my head) before leaving. There would be one stoplight that always backs up traffic but the right turn lane is usually empty and I could use that to get past everyone. I got there and traffic was backed up with an empty turn lane … Several horns honked as I went straight as the light turned green.
As I was on my way to the hospital I called to let my wife know that I was going to the hospital and to not worry about me. I told her I’d call when I knew something. Well, first she asked me what the hell I was doing driving and then informed me that she was going to leave work and see me at the hospital.
When I arrived at the hospital I found a parking spot that was only about 30 yards or so (uphill) from the Emergency Room entrance. By the time I got to the registration desk I was again sweating and my chest was hurting. I realized that I was holding my chest with my right hand balled up into a fist and I was shaking. They took me to a (very uncomfortable) bed immediately and said that they’d get my information in a little while.
They examined me, took a blood sample to determine if I was having a heart attack. About this time my wife arrived. It was very comforting to have her there with me.
The blood test came back negative for a heart attack. My pain was subsiding but still there. So, they took another blood sample and gave me a tiny nitro pill (under my tongue). The nitro pill seemed to help so they put a second pill under my tongue. The doctor then had the nurse apply a nitro patch to my upper arm.
The second Blood test results also came back negative for a heart attack. However they wanted to keep me overnight and perform some tests in the morning. I told my wife to go on home, get some dinner and a good night’s sleep. There was not an available bed (actually it was their shift change, I think) so they put me in a small room with a TV. I called my office and asked one of my co-workers to bring me my laptop so that I could help keep a project on schedule since I would probably be going in late that next day.
My co-worker brought me my laptop and we visited for a little while. Shortly after he left I was taken up to a room. They knew that I was coming so they had ordered me a dinner. I ate my dinner and then settled in with my computer and worked until ±2:00 AM. Except for the frequent visits by the nurses to check my vitals I tried to get some sleep.
I was up early the next morning wanting to be disconnected from the monitor(s) so that I could take a shower. I was very persistent in my desire to take a shower, so much so that after breakfast and some more requests I was allowed to take a shower (at ±9:00 AM).
My wife had arrived at a little after 8:00 AM to be with me. She brought me some clean clothes in anticipation of my going home after the planned tests. The first test was supposed to be a Stress Test which was scheduled for 10:00 AM. The doctor came in to “examine” me before I went for my stress test. After listening to my heart he asked if I had ever had a heart murmur, I had not. The nurse came in with a sonogram machine, set it up, put some lube on the wand and began to look at what was going on in my chest.
She very quickly and abruptly left the room, returning shortly with the doctor. It was then, that they very calmly explained to us, and showed us on the sonogram screen that my Ascending Aorta had ruptured. I could see the inner layer(s) of tissue flapping as the blood flowed through.
Things happened very fast after that. The hospital I was in was not equipped to handle my problem. In their opinion there were only 2 hospitals in the metro area that were properly equipped and staffed to handle an Aortic Dissection so the calls were made to determine which one I would be taken to. Then there was the matter of how I would be transported. There was some discussion of Life Flight so it was obvious that this was a serious situation.
While awaiting the decision as to which hospital and how best to get there I was given an MRI. After coming out of the MRI we found out that I would be taken by ambulance to Research Hospital and that my surgeon would be Dr. Seligson. My wife took some of my things (clothes & computer) and stopped by home to get a few things on her way to Research. After stopping at home, she decided to leave her car at her mother’s house and ride with her mother to the hospital.
The ride from St. Mary’s to Research seemed to take a long time. When we got to Research we went in the Emergency Entrance. The ICU was on the other side of the 2 block long building, another long ride (on the gurney).
When I got to the ICU there was a room all ready for me, full of monitors and IV stands. I was transferred from the gurney to the bed and my IV was hung on one of the stands. Several people were coming in and out of the room doing more things than I could keep track of. In the crowd of people was one nurse that gave me her name (that I don’t remember) and told me she was going to be my ICU nurse. She started to explain to me what would be happening. Not far into her explanation my surgeon came in, introduced himself and then told the nurse that he was unable to read the MRI that came over from St. Mary’s (something about St. Mary’s having old software) and that I was to be taken immediately for a new MRI, that ended her explanation of the upcoming event(s).
During the MRI Dr. Seligson was watching it as it took place. He came out of the “control” room just as I was being moved from the machine back onto the bed (to be taken back to ICU) and informed me and the others in the room that I would not be going back to ICU, I was to go to the OR. Several of the people there left the room (to do prep, I’d guess). Still in the room with me was the MRI Technician, a young doctor and a nurse. The nurse was trying to help me find (call) my wife. My wife was in the building and was trying to find me. The nurse went to get her and the technician left the room.
I looked at the young doctor standing by my feet and asked him what my chances were. He told me that Dr. Seligson was a good doctor. I told him that I had heard that but wanted to know what my chances were. He told me that with Dr. Seligson probably 80 or 90 percent.
Dr. Seligson came back in with 2 pieces of paper. He asked the young doctor to leave us, he did. Dr. Seligson then explained what would be required in surgery (in terms that I could understand). He explained that the ruptured Aorta would be repaired with a man-made material. Also, it appeared that the valve had been damaged and may need to be replaced. I had two choices in the event the valve needed to be replaced, one is a pig valve that would probably only last for 8 to 10 years before needing to be replaced. The other choice would be a mechanical valve that would be good for 50 to 100 years. The drawback to the mechanical valve was that I would be on a blood thinner for the rest of my life to keep the blood from clotting on/around the mechanical valve as the body will not accept it. I chose the mechanical valve. I said “let’s just go in once”. I signed both sheets of paper one for each repair.
As he began to leave I asked him what my chances were. He told me “I’ll do a good job”. I told him I was sure that he would but what were my chances? He again told me “I’ll do a good job”. He then left the room. I knew then (for sure) that things were not good. However,
I felt at peace with things.
The nurse then returned with my wife. I gave her the few valuables that I still had with me. We exchanged an I Love You and a kiss. I remember the fear and tears in her eyes. That is all we had time for before I was taken to the ER.
As I was being taken to the OR there was a man with a razor preparing to shave me before I was moved from the gurney to the operating table (that’s when you know that things are serious!). As soon as I was on the operating table the shaving began in earnest. The man told me that the chest hair would grow back and I told him that I would not miss those 4 hairs.
As soon as I was on the table another man asked if I knew who he was, I told him “no”. He said that he was the anesthesiologist and asked if anyone had explained what he would be doing? Yes they had. As he was asking me these questions two other people were taping my wrists down. I said “this could get kinky” no one laughed. The anesthesiologist then told me I’d feel a little stick. The next thing I knew I was in ICU, no counting backwards from 10 or anything like that.
10:00 AM the ruptured Aorta was discovered. 2:00 PM I was on the operating table. I was on the operating table for 8 ½ hours.
±6:00 AM Wednesday morning I began coming out of the anesthesia. I remember first having a dream and the immediately having the conscious thought that I made it, I was alive because I figured that you did not dream if you were dead. I was very happy, to say the least. By 7:00 AM I was trying to take the breathing tube out (as most people do, I hear) and I was told to leave it alone. As best as one can talk with a breathing tube in, I asked what I would have to do to get it take out. They said that I’d have to breathe. I told them to take it out and I’d breathe! They did and I did.
Next, I wanted a drink of water. I was told that I could not drink water (they worry about fluid build-up around the heart). I was persistent in my desire to have a drink of water. After a while the nurse contacted the doctor for permission and returned to my room with the smallest glass of water I had ever seen. She set it down and informed me that I could have 3 of those – in a 24 hour period. I told her that that was “not going to cut it”. I asked what I would have to do to get more than that. She told me that I would have to go upstairs. So, I asked, how do get to go upstairs? She said that I had to get out of bed (with assistance) and sit up in a chair for a certain period of time (and get doctor authorization). I was upstairs in a new room by 6:00 PM that day having a solid food dinner.
I was very proactive in my care which frustrated many of the nurses (I have lots of stories there) but, I wound up going home 5 days after my surgery. I returned to work (electronically) the following Monday. I was physically back at my office before Thanksgiving and doing well today.