Category: Sixties Page 1 of 2

James Brown-62

Name: James Brown
Age at time of Dissection: 62
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection:  7 September 2016
Tell Us Your Story:

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he day started out as any other day I was feeling good and about 3:00 PM I started making dinner I needed to make a run to the store my wife and I went and on the way back we stopped at the mailbox’s to check for mail, I got out of the truck and all of a sudden felt this pressure in my chest and back, it was as if I was being pushed to the ground.

We went straight back to the house where I tried to lay down but the pain was excruciating, so I laid down on the floor the wife called 911 and paramedics came. I don’t remember a whole lot after that. I was rushed to the er where they treated me for heart attack and sent me to St. Peter’s later that night.

The admitting doctor Jimmy Swan did not believe I had heart attack so he ran a catheter up my arm and discovered the tear. I was immediately prepped for surgery. Doctor Santemerino performed the surgery which took 11 hours, He nearly lost me on the table.

I spent 17 days in I.C.U and a total of 30 days in the hospital with one week spent in a nursing home. My recovery has been slow, I haven’t felt good since the dissection. I found out just a few weeks ago that my aorta has increased from 4,4 to 6 cm with the dissection continuing into the abdomen.

I was told by a cardiologist that there was no need to see a vascular surgeon because there was nothing that could be be done for me and if I did see the surgeon he just tell me the same thing. Now I am scheduled to see the vascular surgeon this week and discuss my next steps.

It may well be that they can’t repair the dissection because of where it is and the risk involved the cardiologist said if they did operate it could leave me brain dead or paralyzed. I will leave my fate in the Hands of God and the vascular surgeon.

I survived this life threatening ordeal once hopefully I will survive this also and be around to complete my story and this journey.

Michael McKechnie-62

Name: Michael McKechnie
Age at time of Dissection: 62
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 21 September 2017
Tell Us Your Story:

From a personal health perspective I cheerfully breezed through the first 62 years of my life. There was the minor tennis injury and the occasional sinus infection but I never had to stay in a hospital and amazingly never missed a day of work. Throughout adulthood daily exercise was imbedded in my lifestyle and I monitored every aspect of my diet. Asking me if I went the gym was like wanting to know if I breathed oxygen, I ate maybe 3 hamburgers a year. I was one of the healthiest people I knew.

This abruptly changed on August 1st 2017.

Two days before my 62nd birthday I had my long past due (oh sorry, Doctor I have just been so busy) wellness check. It was during this routine exam that my primary physician Dr Whelan Culley detected a heart murmur and referred me to a cardiologist named Dr James Neiman. I had no pain or shortness of breath and my history did not suggest alarm but Dr Neiman directed a series of diagnostic tests. After the echocardiogram he asked to see my wife and I at his office as soon as possible and it was then that I heard a group of relatively common words spoken sequentially for the first time. Ascending aortic dissection and aneurysm– what???

Dr Neiman told me to immediately stop exercising and ordered a TEE which not only confirmed the condition but also the precariousness of the aneurysm that somehow contained itself between the two inner layers of my aorta. At this point I was on the fast track and then scheduled to see a heart surgeon, Dr Hartmuth Bittner, (the appointment was delayed twice due to Hurricane Irma, and I filled one afternoon recklessly removing storm panels from my house).

Even though I did some previous research I was still unsure what to expect and was stunned when Dr Bittner outlined what was ahead of me and explained that an extremely intense operation was necessary to replace the damaged section of my aorta. Two days later I spent 12 hours on an operating table. The surgery proceeded normally and was almost over when the right coronary artery unexpectedly burst. Dr Bittner and his team were prepared for just such an emergency, before the operation they took a vein from my leg which they used to bypass the blown artery. This was when my wife and daughters began to feel overwhelmed about the uncanny series of wondrous and inconceivable events that occurred over the last several days.

After 2 weeks in the hospital my homecoming was a treasure, my recovery has had some setbacks but I still expect to eventually be able to resume most of my normal activities. There are no words adequate enough to express the gratitude I have to my incredible doctors and all the professionals at Largo Medical Center.

My survival started with a basic check-up which resulted in an accurate diagnosis before anything really bad happened. Still…why did I not feel any pain? Why did the aneurysm contain itself? (The dissected area was described as being like thin tissue paper). The consensus theory is prior physical condition but I still pause during my recovery and understand that there is a much deeper reason.

As for now I want to hug everyone I see, I’ve fallen in love all over again with my wife and I’m getting reacquainted with God. I feel such a joy in savoring this precious and beautiful gift, it is wonderful to be alive.

Update: 9/20/2018:
Today is one year after my surgery and the first birthday of my new life. Spoiler alert–I feel wonderful!
It was not until the early spring of 2018 when I felt close to normal again, however it became clear that this was an entirely different normal. It evolved into an understanding of a dividing point to a life ‘before 9/21’ and ‘after 9/21′. I came to terms that no matter whatever happens to me the world moves on very quickly and that only I could control how to react to such an incredible change.

The first few weeks of my recovery was a brutal struggle with the physical effects of such an invasive surgery. I could not eat unthickened foods or drink unthickened liquids, I developed thrush, there was numbness in my legs and left arm, just walking to the bathroom was a major accomplishment. And there was the turmoil in dealing with an unexpected emotional aftermath. I felt an intense anxiousness about the unknown. Some mornings I was afraid to just get out of bed, consumed with a fear that I would not get better. I ached for the body I once had. I wept constantly.

As with most recovery success stories it was a support group that helped me through this most difficult period. Encouragement came from my doctors during follow-up visits, the specialists I saw for my cardio rehabilitation, friends who visited me and called regularly. And how rich is a man to be surrounded by a loving family and a devoted wife, my absolute soulmate, who was tirelessly by my side almost every moment throughout this entire ordeal.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Somewhere in mid-life I eased into the comforts of good health and modest prosperity, I rarely thought about my good fortune other than being a just reward for hard work. Over the years I also became spiritually empty and sometimes even began to question the existence of God. Then out of nowhere I’m told I have this life threatening condition, the series of events that lead to my diagnosis and survival were beyond coincidental, I know I was being guided and was called on to accept whatever purpose that is planned for me. So many gifts were right there in front of me but my eyes were closed, I had to be awakened to see and appreciate these treasures.

I will not waste this suffering, I rejoice the beauty and fullness of each day in this wonderful new life.

Jack Paltell-64

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.

Jackie Creber-67

Name: Jackie Creber
Age at time of Dissection: 67
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 16 August 2016
Tell Us Your Story:

Ifirst presented with a crushing pain in my chest, also in my back ( this felt like indigestion) I went to ER and waited most of the day for them to decide what I had. I was given warfarin for a possible pulmonary embolism. They did an ECG but apart from a rapid heartbeat they found nothing, they sent me home and I was told to return the next day for an angiogram.

It was late afternoon before I had that done, once they realized it was an aneurysm, an ambulance was sent for and I was rushed to a nearby hospital specializing in heart conditions. The surgeon informed my family of how serious it was, particularly as I had been given blood thinning medicine. The surgery took 8 hours, and I was on a ventilator for a few days, my kidneys had failed and I was on dialysis for a week, my liver was affected also.

I spent two weeks in critical care, and a further two weeks in a ward. It is now five months later and I am very well, and consider myself extremely lucky to be alive!

James Brown-62

Name: James Brown
Age at time of Dissection: 62
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 7 September 2016
Tell Us Your Story:

My aortic dissection came without warning, my wife and I had just returned home from the store and we stop by the mailbox, I got out of the truck checked the mail and all a sudden I felt a tremendous pressure in my chest. At this point we returned to the house where I tried to lay down on the bed, but the pain wa to intense, so I laid down on the floor and asked my wife to call 911 within fifteen or twenty minutes I was being transported to the hospital. After entering the hospital I have little memory of what happened.

I remember my sister in law was there and I asked her to take care of my wife, I was sure that I was going to die. My condition was treated as heart attack, but luckily for me they was not sure and sent me to another hospital. The admitting doctor on duty was a cardiologist he did not believe I was having hear attack.

He put a probe through my arm and found that my aorta had torn. He immediately had me prepped for surgery. The surgeon told me that my chance were not good but without surgery I would die, I agreed to surgery and I do not remember anything after that until I woke up in I.C.U four days later.

I had the best care and was in I.C.U for seventy days. My surgeon called me his miracle. I am here today to celebrate Christmas with my family because the cardiologist new I was not having heart attack and his quick actions and the skill of the surgeon and the good Lord above is why I survived when many others have not. The recovery process has been difficult for me, but I have a great support group to help me.

Robert Bidrowski-60

Name: Robert Bidrowski
Age at time of Dissection: 60
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 29 April 2016
Tell Us Your Story:

I had just gotten off a flight from St. Louis to Omaha, NE at 11:30 pm. I lit up a cigarette as soon as I got outside the terminal. This became my last cigarette. As I was walking to my car I had what I can only describe as an explosion in my back and then a buzzing in my head and feet. I stopped and thought “what the heck was that. It probably wasn’t good.” I threw the cigarette down, decided I was OK and continued to my car. I had a 50 mile drive to my home and decided I would be OK once I got on the road.

So I started driving on the Interstate. I started feeling really weak, had some vision problems and felt numbness in my arm. I got off the Interstate at basically the point of no return. Something told me that if I continued I was going to die.

At this point I should have called 911, probably should have called 911 at the airport. But I decided to drive myself to the hospital. I arrived at the hospital, now not feeling well at all. Parked, walked in through the security door and said I think I’m having a heart attack. I was immediately attended to by the great ER staff and soon I was having a CT scan. Apparently I had some really different blood pressures (really low on one arm and normal on the other arm.)

The ER doctor talked to me after the CT scan and showed me what was happening. An ascending aortic dissection. He said I needed surgery now and the surgeon was on her way. I remember telling the ER doctor that I had a bowling tournament that weekend in Missouri and I remember him telling me “Yeah, your probably not going to make that.”

I remember meeting the surgeon, Dr. HelenMari Merritt. The next thing I remember was waking up with a breathing tube, lots of tubes and all kinds of medical apparatus. My girlfriend was there, my sons were there. Apparently, I had been in surgery for about 8 hours. I got a dacron graft and a valve repair. I was in the hospital for about 2 weeks, came home and started the recovery. When I got out of the hospital I thought I’ll be back to work in two weeks. It actually took 4 months.

I owe so much to Dr. Merritt and the staff at Nebraska Medicine. I owe so much to my girlfriend, Kathy, and my two sons, Erik and Mark and other family as well as friends. I also need to thank my cardiac therapy specialists at Bryan Lifepointe in Lincoln, NE.

So now I’m working on the blood pressure but it is proving difficult to control. I’ve got another followup in February with a CT scan, appointment with Dr. Merritt and another appointment with a vascular specialist. What I’ve been told is that I have a dissection in the descending aorta that may need some treatment or not.

I’ve made some lifestyle changes. No smoking and trying to eat better. I’m trying to keep my stress down but work is again making that difficult. I continued my cardiac therapy by joining the health club. I’ve added some strength exercises as well. Anyway, that’s my story up till now. I’ve been told I was lucky, fortunate, it was touch and go, etc. So I will try to do what the doctors tell me is best and hopefully be here for many more years.

Steve Gerbson-63

Name: Steve Gerbson
Age at time of Dissection: 63
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 3 December 2013
Tell Us Your Story:

Steve Gerbson, right, has his Lavaman race number marked on him at the Hilton Waikoloa Village by a volunteer on Saturday.

Steve Gerbson produces an inspiring story at Lavaman Waikoloa

By John DeGroote West Hawaii Today

Steve Gerbson knows he is lucky to be alive. He acknowledges that every time he recounts the catastrophic medical event that changed his life.

In 2013, Gerbson suffered an ascending aortic dissection, a relatively rare occurrence when the inner layer of the aorta — the large blood vessel branching off the heart — tears. Blood surges through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate.

“The pain was unbelievable,” Gerbson said. “It felt like a ping pong ball exploded in my chest. My wife asked me if she should take me to the emergency room, and I said no — call 911.”

By trade, Gerbson is a live-television producer and filmmaker in Los Angeles. If this was going to happen, he couldn’t have written a better script. The incident occurred in Santa Fe, New Mexico during a drive with his wife, Olivia, to find furniture for their new house. If it would have happened in LA traffic, Gerbson might not have been as lucky as he was. He recalls the EMTs showing up in just minutes, right before he passed out.

According to the New Mexico Heart Institute, 40 percent of people who have an ascending aortic dissection do not make it to the hospital. Only one in three who make it to the hospital survive, so the incident was far from over. However, he wouldn’t remember much of it. It happened on a Monday and Gerbson woke up on Thursday.

He underwent a nine-hour surgery at the Heart Hospital in Albuquerque. He spent three weeks in the hospital recovering, and went through dialysis because of kidney issues. The path to being whole again seemed like a triathlon of a trek.

“I literally could not pick my finger up off my mattress,” Gerbson said. “It took me a while to even get out of bed and I was fairly depressed. You start looking at your mortality. None of it made sense to me.”

Gerbson has always been athletic, playing football in college and high school and building a lengthy marathon resume that includes Boston, LA and New York.

He knew coming back from this was going to be a different beast, but with his wife’s urging, he started chipping away.

“I got back in the pool, would swim 100 yards and be exhausted,” Gerbson said. “But I was working my way back and feeling better.”

In 2014, another hurdle emerged. Gerbson was told that a previously diagnosed abdominal aortic aneurysm was growing. He needed to be operated on — again.

The initial plan would have put Gerbson back in the hospital for two weeks, with an additional two months of recovery. Then an alternative surfaced.

Enter, Dr. Steve Henao, an endovascular surgeon with the New Mexico Heart Institute. He proposed using stents instead of surgery. It was a relatively new type of procedure, but it meant no huge incisions, and more importantly, minimal recovery time. Just a few hours for the surgery and back in the pool in a week.

The LA doctors advised Gerbson against the surgery, but he did his due diligence and researched Henao. He found an article talking about how the New Mexico Heart Institute doctor saved an 84-year-old retired U.S. Army lieutenant without a pulse from an emergency abdominal aortic rupture without invasive major surgery.

That — coupled with the approval of his loved ones — was enough for Gerbson to pull the trigger on the cutting edge operation.

“I’m a filmmaker — I believe in people’s credits,” laughed Gerbson. “I’ve made a living with high-tech stuff in live-television, so it seemed appropriate. And I didn’t want to get opened up again — that was for sure. I said let’s go for it.”

He hasn’t looked back.

Gerbson has some scars — some he will show you, others he won’t. His nose gets runny and he gets cold easily, but finally he feels whole again. That has brought him to the Big Island for Lavaman Waikoloa this weekend.

“I had always heard about Lavaman and it seems like the perfect distance for me right now,” said Gerbson, who owns a timeshare on the Big Island and has been coming annually for almost a decade.

“I’ve reached the point where I don’t really recognize the person looking back at me in the mirror,” the 65-year-old added. “I want to prove to myself I can do it.”

There are obvious risks involved, but Gerbson received the blessings from his doctors last year to start training. Even more importantly, he got the approval from his wife.

“I wasn’t surprised. It’s in his nature to challenge himself,” Olivia Ayela said. “With the doctors being OK with him doing it, I was fine with it. I just tell him not to worry about his time — just have a good time.”

Steve Gerbson acknowledges not worrying about his time might be an issue, but he knows he’s not here to set any records. Instead, he hopes his comeback story — which will be documented by a film crew — will help someone in a similar situation.

“You put things in perspective and examine who you are and what you have gone through after something like this,” Gerbson said. “I hope my story can offer another patient some sort of solace or encouragement that if they have a catastrophic medical event, life isn’t over. You can become whole again — I’m as whole as I ever was.”

Don Stephens-63

Name: Don Stephens
Age at time of Dissection: 63
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 25 March 2013
Tell Us Your Story:

Ihad a type B aortic dissection and I was given a 5% chance of surviving increasing 5% each day over four days. I am currently on 9 tablets a day, undergo regular blood tests and CT scans however, I am alive.

I also suffer from PTSD which was caused by the Vietnam War and would like to know if a specialist can confirm that there is evidence to prove that there is a link between PTSD and aortic dissection

Mike Modugno-61

Name: Mike Modugno
Age at time of Dissection: 61
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 18 November 2009
Tell Us Your Story:

My family reminds me its been 6 years sense my event. I was on a business trip in Riverside Calif. Just did not feel good and the hotel drove to Riverside Hospital.

I walked into the hospital on my own. Net result “Acute Aortic dissection (Stanford type A)with aortic root replacement.

I now lead a very full life. I ride a my bike at a moderate pace but no big hills. I walk daily with the my dog and just enjoy life.

Fortunately the ER doctor at Riverside caught the systems and called for a Thoracic surgeon from the university of Yorba Linda. They say I just made it through the surgery and recovery was very slow.

John Papez-65

Name: John Papez
Age at time of Dissection: 65
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 29 December 2014
Tell Us Your Story:

1130 AM sitting in my office on a phone call when I felt like an ice pick was beating on the inside of my upper sternum. Immediately called secretary and said ‘take me to the hospital’. She said that she would call an ambulance.

I said ‘no! I don’t have time’. Absolutely no prior cardiac history. Excellent health, work out in the gym 300 days a year, vegan diet for 3 years prior. Reaching the hospital in less than 10 minutes, left leg completely numb so we entered the ER in wheelchair.

ER nurse immediately took me to special area and interrogated me as she hooked up EKG and off to the CT scan we went. Pain was intense in left hip area. 25 minutes later, surgeon was looking down at me with my wife and best friend of 40 years, he asked what I wanted to know about the risks involved with the procedure that I needed. ‘Just do what you need to do, but am I going to need surgery?’. He said somewhat startled ‘Oh yes’. Fortunately, he was minutes away from starting a non-emergent valve replacement on another patient who was already in the surgical suite with his 10 person team.

They removed her from the suite, and began the 7 hour aortic root and aortic valve replacement surgery. I was very fortunate to immediately get to the right hospital and have a full team prepared to begin the surgery. One of my early goals was not to have this surgery define who I was any more than I would let a hip replacement define me. I have not let that happen. However, as I approach my anniversary in December, I find myself googling for information about AD and Survivors again like I did right after my surgery.

I am very grateful to have survived. Dr Robert Riley is a great surgeon and the ER nurse, Donna, was so alert to my condition. I can never thank them enough. Dr Riley told me at my 3 week visit ‘see you next December’. My new cardiologist told me at my 3 week visit ‘see you next December’. Life is good!

Barbara Vaughan-65

Name: Barbara Vaughan
Age at time of Dissection: 65
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 10 October 2012
Tell Us Your Story:

I am a Marfan patient who has been monitored and treated with BP meds for about 20 years. My aortic root was at 4.7 cm prior to dissection. My dissection extended from the aortic valve, all the way to the iliac arteries.

I survived the flight for life ride and a nine hour surgery. My surgeon described my tissues as like sewing butter. After almost 3 years a CT scan shows no change in the aortic dissection, no aneurysm, however it also found a small tear beginning in my pulmonary artery. This usually indicates high BP in that vessel.

Doctor are reluctant to confirm the high BP with a Heart cath for fear of tearing the artery further. It appears that this condition is very rare even among Marfan’s patients. Do you know of any treatment options? We live moment by moment and do our best to enjoy each one.

This site is a great find for us. Thanks

Guerdon Smith-64

Name: guerdon smith
Age at time of Dissection: 64
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 2 March 2015
Tell Us Your Story:

In the middle of the night I experienced the most painful event I have ever had without blacking out. I knew if I lost awareness it would be over and there were still lives to embrace. After vomiting quietly so as not to wake my wife, I crawled back into bed, which woke her up. She wanted to know if I needed anything. I asked for a hot water bottle. Instead I used a bag of cherry pits which had been microwaved. I believed this saved my life, because the pain was reduced and I could concentrate on my breathing and Gods’ love. We decided to go to the medicenter the next day “just to be safe”.

She thought a walk would help before we went there I tried to follow her lead, but after a few blocks I knew whatever had happened had used up my body power, so we headed for the clinic. It was closed. I decided to go home and lay low until the next day. The next day we went to my Doctor, who I see every five years. He asked me to describe my condition, I didn’t get to finish when he said I was describing a major heart attack. He was disappointed that I hadn’t called him at home on Sunday night. I told him I didn’t think I should bother him,and the reason I loved him was that he cared enough to be mad. We immediately went to ER. He had called ahead telling them that I was having a heart attack, and to expedite me through.

Three hours later I was in a room with a M.D. I have since found out that you need to tell them you are in acute pain to be taken seriously. I was in ICU for ten days with every possible test done. It was the head of the Heart Section who told me they couldn’t help me further. I takes a great Surgeon to send you another hospital. If you read the statistics on A.D. You know I should have been dead. They dumped me into an ambulance and shipped me to the Stanford Teaching Hospital, a six hour trip. I looked at my records and they said I was delusional, but I could see the sadness in the surgeons face.

My job as I saw it now was to be the best patient. I greeted the new crew at Cardiac ICU,with good cheer. I asked The Head Guy” Are you any good at this?”. A stunned silence fell over the crew of ten specialists. He said “Yeah pretty good.” “Let’s do it then” I said.

Eight hours later I was assembled, but I had to go back for another three hours cleanup. Then I was in ICU for several weeks till I was well enough to be released. Now I am at home and getting better slowly. My goal is to be the poster child for healthy recovery. Note, no one does this alone. My Wife NEVER thought I wouldn’t make it. The caregivers never told us anything negative. For this I am grateful, when I am asked what happened, I tell them that I had Aortic Dissection and then smile at my good fortune. Best wishes, Guerdon

Dan Bell-64

Name: Dan Bell
Age at time of Dissection: 64
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 11 September 2012
Tell Us Your Story:

On a beautiful Tuesday morning, Sept. 11th, 2012 my personal disaster struck. I was on the back deck around 10 AM, having coffee with my dog Pepper, and I suddenly heard what sounded like an old fashioned steam locomotive coming my way from my right side. I was looking around when another train sounded like it was approaching from the left side. At this point I was very apprehensive, as I knew something very bad was happening. A fluttering sensation in my chest convinced me that I needed help, and fast. I walked into the kitchen, picked up the phone and dialed 911, then I lay down on the floor (so I couldn’t fall down) and gave the operator my information. At some point I passed out, but I must have given her enough, because an ambulance came, and they took me (being a Kaiser member) to the local Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa, CA.
I wasn’t conscious and able to remember events again for the next 3 weeks. When I was lucid again, I learned that….

I had been taken to the Emergency Room and they had correctly diagnosed a Type A ascending aortic dissection, via CT scan, I believe. As there was no surgical team in Santa Rosa which could perform the repair, they decided my best chance was at the Kaiser Medical Center in San Francisco, where they had a surgical team well trained in the necessary techniques to do the repair. I was put in an ambulance for the 2 hr. trip to the City down Highway 101. I’ve since heard my condition on arrival described as ‘circling the drain’. Very close to death.

My dissection was repaired with a Dacron patch by Dr. Cain. I was on the table for almost nine hours and the whole procedure was complicated by the fact that I turned out to be allergic to Heparin, a drug used to prevent clotting. The fun fact is that when you’re allergic, the effect of the Heparin is to cause you to throw clots, just the opposite of the desired result. This would cause a clot in the right brachial artery (upper arm) to resolve into my fingers on the right hand, preventing blood flow and causing gangrene. The same issue affected all the toes on the left foot.

But that was for later. For now, it was ICU and coma and infection and dementia. By the time I was able to form coherent thoughts, it was 3 weeks later. I left the hospital a week after that, almost a month to the day after they dragged me out of the drain I was circling. I had a large scar on my chest, a bunch of inch long incision scars (cameras to check blood flow to organs)

I’m very grateful to all the doctors and nurses at Kaiser. And the other people who make that place run… the aides, the attendants. Both during surgery and recovery, they did a fabulous job for me. I’m grateful that my other organs were not compromised. Especially my brain. I’m grateful that my right hand was able to be salvaged, although I did have to lose the first two joints of four fingers. I’m grateful that I was able to keep the thumb. I’m grateful that I had a great plastics guy at Kaiser that was patient and helped me save four toes, so that I only had to lose half the big one. In short, I’m grateful to be alive.

Most of all, I’m grateful for my wife, Christine, who never doubted, never wavered in her love and support. She makes my world worth living in.

Nancy Reed-66

Name: Nancy Reed
Age at time of Dissection: 66
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 30 October 2013
Tell Us Your Story:

I had a 5 inch aortic dissection on October 30, 2013. I was waiting for lunch service at a restaurant with my husband, when with no warning I passed out. All I could manage was “I think I’m having a heart attack!” as I fell to the floor. My frantic husband called for help and a young man gave me CPR while waiting for the ambulance which arrived in close to 5 minutes! The oxygen enabled me to say “what am I doing here?” As I became conscious of my position of laying on the ground, then on a gurney in an ambulance.

At the hospital emergency, attendants repeatedly asked me what day it was; fearing stroke. Nurses and doctors were already preparing for surgery when I arrived though diagnosis was unclear until 2 CAT scans were performed. I had never heard of aortic dissection, so I did not understand what was happening until much later. The surgeon explained that she would be using a cow part or a pig part for repair. I requested cow. She predicted the surgery would last 6-12 hours and the chance of survival was 50/50. It lasted 7 hours and went well.

Everything had to be perfect. If I had been home alone, or anywhere unlike the restaurant setting with a trained first aid person, and an ambulance nearby; I would not have survived.

I am 6 weeks post op, and finally turned the corner last week and resumed driving and many activities.

Last week the young man who saved me on the spot was honored at a Red Cross luncheon.

I feel very humble, extremely vulnerable and weak. Draw close to God and He will draw close to you.

Dave Pendergrass-60

Name: Dave Pendergrass
Age at time of Dissection: 60
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 31 October 2008
Tell Us Your Story:

Ineed to give you a little background in order for you to truly appreciate the irony of my story.

In late 2005 I’m in the best shape I have been in since I got out of the Marine Corps 30 years before. My weight has been slowly dropping for 2 or 3 years. I have been walking the golf course and riding a bicycle, and in general feel better than anyone I know at my age. As part of an annual ritual, I traveled to Kansas to hunt pheasant with friends as we have been doing every winter since 1994. As we’re walking the fields I find myself wheezing and out of breath with no explanation. I feel fine other than the breathing problems during exertion. I vowed to see the doctor when I get home.

I saw Dr. Curry and explained the symptoms. He observed that I have been seeing him for flight physicals since the late 80’s and have never been seriously ill. He does some preliminary checking and prescribes a medication that you inhale a few times a day. It helps a little, but not much. After a couple of weeks he sends me for x-rays. Then he calls the next day and insists that I have a CT-scan immediately. The day after that he calls me to say he has scheduled an appointment with a Dr. Butler, an oncologist. This news scares the crap out of me. Nobody in my family has ever had cancer and after a little thinking I dismiss the implication, but see Dr. Butler anyway. He does another CT-scan and says I need to have a biopsy and that he has scheduled it for me with Dr. Garrett, who is not only the head of the Virginia Hospital Center’s vascular surgery unit, he is also the Chairman of the Board of the hospital.

I feel pretty good about this resume, but I’m also a little concerned that this much talent is needed for a simple biopsy.Then I find out that in order to do the biopsy, Dr. Garrett has to go into my chest cavity behind the breast bone and take a piece of one of my lymph nodes that is the size of a softball. Now I understand. So he does the biopsy and I’m in and out of the hospital in a few hours (even though it’s surgery with an operating room, anesthesiologist and all) with a few stitches closing a slice where they cut my throat in order to get the tool behind my breast bone.And then the diagnosis is confirmed, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 57. All of a sudden, everything changes. Even though Dr. Butler assures me that while it is not curable (great, more good news) it is treatable (what does that mean).

They treat me with something called Rituxan, and it’s not too bad. No side-effects to speak of. No hair loss. In fact, since I’m traveling a lot for work during this period, I usually leave the treatments and drive to Richmond for calls. And after just 9 weeks, the cancer goes into remission. Although, Dr. Butler warns me that it’s not cured, just gone to sleep. He says that there is no reason why I can’t live a normal life span and occasionally get treated in the same fashion. Some good news, but my ability to get life insurance or health insurance, or donate blood or organs just went away.

Then 2 years after the treatments, in 2008, I notice that my right arm pit is no longer a pit. Sure enough, at age 59 it’s back. The first thing Dr. Butler does is order a CT scan. By the way, of all the tests they do during this adventure, the prep for a CT scan is probably the worst. You have to drink 2 large glasses of this really nasty liquid before they actually do the scan. Not only is it a lot of liquid to get down in a short time and tastes bad, it gives you the green-apple two-step after about 30 minutes.

I see Dr. Butler the next day and he says that not only is the lymphoma back, but the x-ray tech caught something else and I have to go over to Dr. Garrett’s office right now. I go see Dr. Garrett and he informs me I have a dissection in my ascending aorta and he is scheduling open-heart surgery for tomorrow to repair it before it blows out completely. I should point out that my mother had the same thing happen to her 3 months before, only in her case it did blow and luckily they were 2 minutes from the hospital where they were able to rush her into surgery and save her life.

I held up my hand and told Dr. Garrett that we were going to have to postpone that surgery for a little while. He was not happy, but after hearing my reasoning, he agreed. Not only did I not have the kind of pain my mother had described, but my daughter-in-law was at that time dying of a cancer in her female organs. I just didn’t think it would be appropriate to heap this on top of everything else the family was going through at that moment. My wife wasn’t real happy about this decision, but she did go along.

Tammy passed away within a few weeks, and then I had to tell my son about the problem because I couldn’t travel to be at her funeral. Now the whole family knows and the irony of the cancer saving my life becomes apparent. If I hadn’t gotten the CT-scan, I wouldn’t have known about the aneurism, and when those blow you have about 3 minutes before you bleed out.

So Dr. Garrett orders an angiogram to check for potential heart problems that he can fix while he’s in there. Clean bill of health on the heart, no problems. Unfortunately, that evening the plug they put in the hole in my femoral artery ruptures after dinner and I wind up with a blood clot in my groin the size of my hand. Dr. Garrett has to repair this artery and that procedure delays the open-heart surgery by 2 weeks. What the hell, we’ve already waited a couple of months. But, another surgery, anesthesia, operating room, the whole nine yards. However, Dr. Garrett really knows his business and while I needed a cane to walk into the hospital, I walk out like a new man the same day.
2 weeks later, we go for the big one, open-heart surgery.

I do a little reading and this scares the crap out of me, again. What they’re going to do is replace a section of my ascending aorta with a piece of Dacron tubing. Yep, cut out a section of a large and vital artery and replace it with a cloth-feeling tube that gets sewn in. What a miserable experience waking up from open-heart surgery is. At first you’re paralyzed and can’t move anything but your eyes. Then as the drugs start to wear off you realize at some point your not breathing. I always thought people would choke if they had a tube down they’re throat while they were awake, but if you’re not breathing, apparently there’s no choke reflex. But it is a strange feeling to be awake and conscious of the fact that you are not breathing and yet don’t need air.

So, I spend a few days in the hospital and go home to recuperate. One of the things they like to do nowadays is have a “visiting nurse” visit you at home and save the cost of an office visit. This sounds like a really good idea until the nurse shows up. Right out of the gate she’s giving orders that are contrary to what Dr. Garrett told me, at least I think they are. They had me on so many drugs I can’t really be sure. But in any case, I push back a little on her instructions and she replies with “you’re a heart patient and you have to do these things”. That’s when I know this is not going to work.

I’m not a heart patient. There’s nothing wrong with my heart. In fact, other than being a little weak and groggy from the anesthesia and drugs, I feel fine if a little sleepy. I’m really happy that my daughter Anne has come to spend a few days even though there’s not much for her to do, it does give Connie a break and I don’t have to do anything but be lazy and let someone wait on me between naps. In any case, I figured I’d just ignore the contrary instructions and take advantage of her coming in every couple of days to check my vitals and make sure all is going well.

The second time she comes, she gets all upset because I didn’t follow the letter of her instructions. At that point, I dismiss her and she leaves in a huff. And 2 ½ weeks after surgery I returned to work. They really have this chest-cracking thing down to a science. No aftereffects, no recovery problems, no pain to speak of. Once I was home I stopped taking any drugs other than aspirin.

During this whole process, everyone keeps asking me about the pain when the dissection occurred. I never knew what they were talking about, but as I read your story and others it occurs to me that it probably happened 10 months earlier and I just ignored it. I was back in Kansas for the annual hunt and the night before I got there in the hotel room I was brushing my teeth and had this sudden tearing pain in my lower back that almost knocked me out. I laid down on the bed and after 30-minutes or so it went away. Other than that, I never had any kind of severe pain and if it hadn’t been for the CT scan for the cancer, I may never have known until it was too late that there was even a problem.

Anyway, I turn 65 this year and am playing the best golf of my life in spite of a hip replacement in 2010.

Thanks for putting this site up and providing so much information. It really does help to be able to read about the experiences of others. I hope this story helps someone since it all turned out so well.

Kelly Herbster-69

Name: Kelly Herbster
Age at time of Dissection: 69
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 8 April 2012
Tell Us Your Story:

This story is about my mother. On 4/8/12 she was experiencing chest pain along with back and shoulder pain. I immediately called my mom’s neighbor who is a nurse. He took her vital signs which were all normal but did not like the way she looked. She was sweating and very pale.

He called 911 for an ambulance. After 5 hours in an emergency room at a local hospital, she was feeling better. All blood work, chest x-rays and EKG were normal. The doctor was about to send her home when he decided to do a CAT-Scan with contrast.

Well, to make a long story shore, within a half hour, she was on a helicopter to the Univ. of Pennsylvania Hospital for emergency surgery to repair an Aortic Dissection. It has been 12 days since the surgery and she is still in the hospital dealing with a heart that keeps going into A-Fib. I know she will be OK but I also know she has a long road ahead of her.

I have to thank the Emergency room doctor for doing that one last test
that saved her life.

Barbara White-67

Name: Barbara White
Age at time of Dissection: 67
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 1 March 2011
Tell Us Your Story:

Thought I was a very healthy 67 female. Hiked, rode bicycle, went to fitness center, watched weight and ate good.Had been going to a cardiologist because my blood pressure was high and he kept giving me medicine but nothing was bringing it down.

Had a pain in my left shoulder blade for about 3-4 weeks and thought I pulled a muscle at the fitness center. Drove to Florida by myself for a vacation and by the time I got to Florida I was in a lot of pain. Thought I was imagining that I had one chest pain and pain in my jaw so a couple of days after arriving in Florida, I drove myself to the ER. Never came out for about a month. The doctor said he wasn’t sure he could get it off.

I had a thoracic aneurysm and a double bypass with veins taken from my leg. After surgery, the doctor told my family to go buy a lottery ticket as they were lucky I was alive. Was in the hospital about 2 weeks and in a nursing home after for about a week until my sister came and got me out and took me to her home about 2 hours away. Nursing home was the pit and all horror stories I ever heard about nursing homes was true.

After a couple months of recuperating in Florida, I went home to Massachusetts. I went to both my primary and cardiologist doctors and asked them to see my EKG’s. They gave me my EKG’s going back to 2005 where they all said I had a “left bundle branch blockage” but I was never told about it because they said I didn’t have any symptoms.

It has now been 10 months and I am doing OK. The cold weather in Massachusetts really makes my heart beat fast and takes my breath away when I go out in it.

The open heart surgery and recovery was the worst thing I ever went through in my life. But I have to look at it as a miracle as I can’t imagine another human being being able to perform something like this.

Barbara White

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Stu Pessin-61

Name: Stu Pessin
Age at time of Dissection: 61
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 30 March 2011
Tell Us Your Story:

My first mistake was very common: Ignoring health care. Especially at my age. And smoking. I had quit completely several times, but smoked whenever I wasn’t home. Not such a secret, my wife suspected but decided not to murder me, I’m sure she thought I would eventually quit for good. Anyhow, after moving in 1999, I never bothered to get another primary care doctor and stopped getting regular checkups as the procedures became more and more unpleasant. And of course, I felt fine…

In October 2010, I was forced to seeing a doctor at a walk-in for a dog bite. I startled my 100-lb yellow lab and he got me good on my hand. During my treatment, the doctor called in two other doctors, and they cautiously asked me if I knew what my blood pressure was. I faked ignorance, and they told me that it was 160/130, and that I needed to seek treatment immediately. Mentally I gave in and decided to get a regular doctor and get caught up. As a store manager at Toys R Us, busy season had just started, so I promised myself I would do it right after season.

Well, season was over, Spring had just sprung, and I was working on my day off (which was not unusual for me) as we were preparing for busy outdoor stuff sales. I was in front of a computer when I felt…. funny. Many AD survivors tell of intense pain. Not me. I just felt kinda funny. Numbness and tingly left arm and leg. Like a moron, my first thought was to go outside for a cigarette, but when I stood up I got dizzy, so I sat down. One of my associates, Jessica, asked me if I was okay. I said no, and when the dizziness persisted, I told her to call 911. Most of the next few days is still blurry.

Fortunately my store is less than a mile from Good Samaritan in Brockton MA, where the ER doc was smart enough to order a CT which showed the bleeding, and he was able to diagnose an acute Type A ascending aortic dissection. The ambulance picked me up at 9:30am, and by 1pm I was in a helicopter headed to St. Elizabeth’s in Boston for a graft done by one of the best, Dr. George Tolis.

On Friday, there were some complications with my kidneys and liver, and some bleeding, and I was on dialysis for five days. There was some concern that there would be permanent damage but I got lucky. After a week in ICU and a few days proving to the nurses that I could poop on my own without exploding my incision, I went home. I do distinctly remember Dr. Tolis showing me off to some colleagues, as the “guy who had about ten minutes to live when he got here….” Ironically, had I stayed home on my day off, I’m sure I would have croaked, as the treatment I received five minutes from the store would have been too far away.

Four months at home, then back to work. But not back to normal. Dizzy spells and tingly feeling, double vision, relation to the dissection unknown. On event monitor for a month, so we’ll see. But even though the doctors (I now have several….) say I am okay, I am not as physically capable as before. I get tired fast, no stamina. And every fart’s a fracture. I’m afraid to ignore anything. Good news is that I can still launch and operate my bass boat, and ride my Harley. And if I live through driving the Ariens 10-horse through another New England winter, I promise I will stop threatening a Daytona Bike Week trip and actually GO.

Thanks for stopping by to view our stories. Please help me keep the site going by shopping at’s very much appreciated. Brian Tinsley founder of (please book mark the link once you get to for future purchases!)

Carol Odom-62

Name: Carol Odom
Age at time of Dissection: 62
Type of Dissection: Ascending

Date of Aortic Dissection: 14 November 2006

Tell Us Your Story:

I was typing medical reports on my home computer like I did every weekday when I had the worst pain I have ever felt tearing across my upper stomach and eventually moving into my back. After a CT scan at the hospital ER, it was discovered a thoracic aortic aneurysm had dissected through 2 layers of the 4-layer side of the artery.

I had lost my health insurance and stopped all medical treatment including blood pressure medications. Because I was so light weight, I was not considered a candidate for surgery, so have been treated it by keeping my blood pressure under strict control and CT scan follow up every 3 months to start.

Lung cancer was identified on the CT scan a year later. This was treated with stereotactic laser treatment (a new therapy) at Stanford, it shrank and has been stable the last year.

I also suffer from oxygen-dependent, severe COPD. It is now 4-1/4 years later, and I am still kicking, just not too high.

Thanks for stopping by to view our stories. Please help me keep the site going by shopping at’s very much appreciated. Brian Tinsley founder of (please book mark the link once you get to for future purchases!)

Bill Douglas-62

Name: bill douglas
Age at time of Dissection: 62
Type of Dissection: Ascending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 23 March 2009
Tell Us Your Story:

Its’ been nearly two years since I had my ascending aortic dissection while at work driving a large dump truck. I was about 20 miles from my base in Big Bend WI, when I felt what seemed to be a 6×6 crashing into my into my chest. There was no warning, no symptoms, although I’m sure my b.p. was elevated. Fortunatly, I was going to back up so I wasn’t moving and on the shoulder of a quiet country road and had time to fully stop and asses my situation. I had no strength in my arms or legs, and the crushing sensation was still there but easing up a bit. Determined to pick up my load, I backed up and got into position to load my truck. I got out, struggled to do what I had to do and realized I had no strength to climb back into the cab. What’s worse is that my phone was up on the dashboard, out of reach — I was alone, out in the country.

I sat on the truck step for awhile to regain enough muscle to pull myself back inside, maybe 5-10 minutes, the pain was going away and I finally did get back inside and foolishly decided to get back to my shop. I had the shakes and chills and sweats, but thought it was a reoccurance of pneumonia that I’d had before. I have no memory of that trip until I climbed into my pickup for the 11 mile trip home. All I wanted to do was get to Waukesha change clothes and get to the e.r.. I almost made it. I collapsed at a stop light, rolled through an intersection, crossed lanes and stopped against a phone pole.

I was revived in surgery and at that time I remember the surgeon yelling HURRY! HURRY! HURRY! That was my last memory except for the hospitolists bringing me back for the second time, one day later. I have no idea how long I was sleeping. The operation lasted six hours, three inches of aorta was replaced with tissue from my right thigh, the hospitol stay was two days short of a month, I lost twenty pounds that won’t come back as well as strength and endurance that has not returned no matter what I do. I have a reasonable diet, take vitamins, b.p. and cholesterol meds; my readings are all good and the docs are pleased with those numbers. I’m not happy with the fact that after two years I can’t keep up as well as I used to, but I’ll never quit trying.

I went back to work towards the middle of May and on June 26, I had a mild stroke that affected my legs. After therapy and continuing exercise I got back to work mid-August. Currently, I’m having some issues with my iliac artery which feeds my legs — I’ve had several episodes where varying difficulty walking, breathing and one time, talking. It scared me and got me back to the cardiologist and alot of testing that showed nothing out of order, and then a heart monitor for a month with the same results. I’ve had no issues since January, but keenly aware of what my body is telling me.

I am truly blessed to be alive and thank God every day for my miracle and for the talents and compassion of the folks who diagnosed and treated me. I’ll never forget my first trip in a wheel chair down the halls of the i.c.u. and the nurses applauding and calling me a miracle man. And I truly am.

I would love to share my experience with others who have endured what I have, please drop a note..

Contact Bill

Thanks for stopping by to view our stories. Please help me keep the site going by shopping at’s very much appreciated. Brian Tinsley founder of (please book mark the link once you get to for future purchases!)

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