Category: Thirties Page 2 of 3

Robert Law’s Daughter-31

Type of Dissection: Ascending
Age at time of dissection: 31

We have just tragically lost our daughter to this condition, we know nothing about it apart from what the Coroner has just told me.

Looking on the Internet I see that it is often mis-diagnosed.

Our kate has complained of chest pains in the past also problems walking which I understand could be linked. She has been we believe fobbed of with ‘Go home and rest and keep your leg elevated’ She was a smoker which obviously did not help.

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Erin Doyle-37

On October 16, 2009, I suffered an aortic dissection, ascending and descending.  I’m a 37 year old woman, in good health, and I exercise regularly.  I never imagined something like this could happen to me.  Had I not called 9-1-1 and gotten to a hospital so quickly, I would not be here today.  I had emergency open heart surgery to repair the dissection and am now well on my way to a full recovery.

The reason I want to share to my story is to encourage other women not to ignore unusual symptoms or pain because it may cost you your life.  My first symptom was feeling a burning sensation in my throat, followed by a severe pain in my lower jaw that even made my teeth hurt.  I took an Advil for the pain and thought I would be okay.

A few minutes later, I started to sweat and feel faint – and the jaw pain worsened.  After talking to my Mom and my supervisor at work, I decided I should call 9-1-1 because the symptoms were so unusual and weren’t getting any better.  All of this to say that approximately one hour passed from the very first symptom until I arrived at the emergency room.

By this time, I was getting short of breath.  The amazing doctor who saw me in the ER discovered the dissection while examining a chest x-ray, thinking I might be suffering with a pulmonary embolism.  When I heard the diagnosis, I immediately remembered John Ritter, one of my favorite actors.  I grew up watching him and enjoying his enormous talent.  I knew that this was the medical crisis that tragically took his life.  I don’t really know why, but I became very calm and knew that I would be okay.

The staff sprang into action, the surgical team came together and I was taken to the OR.  I came out nearly 7 hours later, but with my aorta and aortic valve working properly and on the mend.

I know I saved my life by seeking medical attention and being blessed with the amazing staff, my “angels” who took such good care of me.  If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.  I have no known family history and do not fit any of the profiles normally associated with AD.  I’m so blessed to be here today and believe my purpose now is to try to save others by sharing my story…especially women who are so less likely to be affected by AD and might ignore their symptoms or be misdiagnosed.

(After returning to my job on a part-time basis, the physical nature of the
work (standing, working with my arms raised, etc.) was more than I could continue
to do. I am now retired from my 20 year hairstyling career and awaiting a decision
on my application for Social Security Disability. On a positive note, I was elected
President of Mended Hearts, San Antonio Chapter and hope to continue outreach and
education about AD.)

Thank you and take care,

contact Erin

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Andrea Badham-36

Andrea Badham
Pottsville, Australia
Ascending and Arch Thoracic Aortic Dissection

Hi Brian,

My journey starts in Oct 2008 when my husband, Pete and I finally had our first positive pregnancy test after 9 attempts at IVF. It was not a great pregnancy, everything that could go wrong did but we got our little angel Evie 4 weeks early, delivered by C-Section due to Pre-Eclampsia and “stroke like episode”. This was probably the forewarning that something was really wrong but not picked up.

After spending 2 weeks with Evie in the Special care nursery at the John Flynn Private Hospital on the Gold Coast, Australia we were ready to get home and enjoy Evie.

Saturday, July 4th, 2009, we had been home for 2 nights and Pete asked if I wanted to go for our first walk with Evie. We live on a steep hill but I felt fine. Little did I know this walk was going to change our lives forever. We got to the bottom of the hill and felt my carotid pulse racing. Being and Emergency nurse myself I thought it was SVT (fast heart rate) and rubbed my neck to try and slow it down. I also noticed that I had no pulses in my wrists and I was seeing starts.

Pete told me to lie down and I started to feel better. I don’t remember any of this, it’s a blur but Pete has filled in the gaps. We continued up the hill, getting more short of breath and dizzy. I made to our granny flat downstairs and got back the pulses in my wrists and managed to get upstairs. Pete put me to bed and then all I recall is like a black curtain going across my vision and I was still able to tell him to call an ambulance as something was really wrong. We live about 30 mins away from the local Tweed Hospital where I work but the ambulance had just been down our way so they were there in about 10 mins.

On my way to hospital I apparently became extremely confused and my blood pressures were unequal. When I arrived at the ED I was still really confused and they were having trouble getting IV lines in me. I had forgotten had Evie 2 weeks ago and was very repetitive. Only after I was there for a while did I start complaining of chest pain and that’s when one of the docs thought TAD so I went to the CT scan and they found the dissection.

The Tweed Hospital doesn’t have Cardiothoracic but the private hospital does, so we were lucky we had Top Cover and the ED doctor was able to contact the CT surgeon who was on-call for the Private Hospital and came in to do the surgery. So the ED doctor (our head consultant) escorted me to JFH Private for surgery. Here was my husband sitting there with a premmie new born being told if I don’t have surgery tonight I will die and if I do there is a 30% chance of dying as well.

The next thing I know is waking up in the ICU with tubes everywhere and intubated. I never thought this would happen to me as I was once and ICU nurse as well. I even asked the nurse if I was on Pressure Support (a setting on the ventilator) prior to been weaned off it. She said it was the first time a patient had asked her that!!! I was transferred the next day to the Cardiothoracic Surgical ward and continued to improve each day and discharged home after 5 days.

We all thought that would be the end of hospitals for some time but I continued to have the “eye turns” so I was in and out of hospital a few times until they discovered both my carotid arteries had dissected as well. The left may have dissected in week 17 of my pregnancy when I had ringing in my ears but nothing was ever discovered. I was still on lots of hormones for the pregnancy as it was IVF.

I continued to have these turns for weeks afterwards and was diagnosed with ‘migraine auras’ without headaches. Apparently these are symptoms of carotid dissections. I wasn’t able to pick up Evie for about 3 months and my amazing hubby had to babies to look after.

Over the next few months they slowed disappeared and now 11 months after the event, I haven’t had any for approx 2 months. Fingers crossed everything is healing. My last CT scan still shows a persistent tear in the Arch and r) carotid artery. I am still on warfarin, betablocker, antihypertensive and aspirin. My BP stays around 110/70 – 120/80. I have recently started back at work 3 days a week doing Nursing Admin as my career means a lot to me.

I am just so happy to be able to celebrate my bubs 1st birthday soon and hope there are plenty more to come. My husband, family and friends have been amazing through this ordeal and our lives changed in seconds, maybe for the better.

It has been great reading all the posts form other sufferers as I can’t find many websites like this in Australia. I would so love to talk to another sufferer in Australia who has been through this at my age.

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!)

Andrea Badham

Pamela Myer-62 & 30

Personal Stories: Pamela Myer’s Family

Brian, It is very hard to read these stories because I have lost my husband and my daughter within six years. My story starts when my husband had his first heart attack at 38 yrs. old. It was a mild one not much damage to his heart. His family has a history of heart.

He had his second heart attack at 43 yrs. and again not much damage but 2 stents put in. He was told if he had anymore problems he would probably have to have open heart. He never made it that far. We were married for 29 yrs. and he went to Arizona for a Zane Grey Convention to relax from a lot of stress with work in June of 2003. I had to stay home that year and it was the only time we weren’t together. He was in a hotel lobby with friends and I was told that he stood up from the couch to leave the hotel for a party and took one step and went down.

There were two retired doctors at the convention who just happened to be right there but he didn’t make it. Since he had previous heart problems they didn’t do an autopsy. Oh how I wish I would have requested it now. On October 9, 2009 my 30 year old daughter who was 38 wks pregnant called me at work and hour before she died. I work at a hospital. She was crying and I could tell she was scared in her voice. She had took a shower and laid down on the bed and stretched and felt like she had pulled a muscle in her neck. She said it felt something like a pulled muscle but different. She was really scared about the H1N1 and was hoping to get the shot before she had the baby.

Her husband said she was on the computer looking up the symptoms right before she left the house. She had asthma and I asked her if she was having trouble breathing? She said she was and had taken her inhaler. She said it had helped a little. I told her to go to the ER if she felt like she should. She said no that she had called our family doctor and had an appointment at 1:20 p.m.. I told her I would call her back in about 15 mins. to see how she was doing. I got busy at work and never got to talk to her again. I looked up at the clock and it was 1:15 p.m.. I knew she was probably already there at the doctors office. Ten minutes later my son-in-law called me at work and said he got a call from the doctors office that she had fainted and they were taking her to the hospital. I started to cry because I had the same strange feeling in my heart that I had when they called me and said her father went down.

They took her to our other hospital campus about 10 mins. away. I was out the door crying and made it to the hospital before the ambulance got there. They were doing CPR on her and it is a painful picture of my daughter that I will never be able to erase from my memory. I just had to be there with her because I should have been with my husband. They were able to save my beautiful granddaughter and she spent two weeks at Children’s hospital and is just perfect.

No brain damage….they kept up CPR for her baby even though they knew my daughter was gone. The not knowing what happened to this beautiful healthy pregnant woman was so frightening. Was it her heart? What could have caused her death? The next day we got a preliminary autopsy report. A small tear in the ascending aorta. An aortic dissection. My family doctor feels that my husband died from this also. We will never know for sure about my husband but we do know about my daughter. Since then my 29 yr.old son has been checked and his children are being checked. He checked out ok for now. He will have to be checked every 3 to 5 years. My husband’s sister and her children are also being checked.

My daughter’s children will be checked at age five or six. The “what ifs” are hard not to think about. What if I would have ordered an autopsy on my husband. It could have saved my daughter. This thing must be able to take people fast. My daughter saved her child. She didn’t wait for her husband and four yr.old son to take her to the doctor. She left the house without saying goodbye and if she hadn’t we would have lost the baby too or worse she would have died in front of them in the car if she would have waited for them even to get in the car. If she would have went to the hospital it was further than the doctor’s office and we would have lost them both and she could have hurt someone in a car wreck. My doctor told me she walked into the office and they took her right back.

The nurse checked her vitals including blood pressure and everything was fine. They were laughing about how she looked like she was ready to have that baby and she reached for the nurse and said there was that funny feeling in her neck again and she died. Maybe the doctors should do an autopsy on every heart patient especially when they have already had a history of heart. It could of saved my beautiful daughter. I have read online the percentage of woman under forty that die from AD and are pregnant with there first child or second.

The percentage is high. I to got on line and started reading about AD nd it scared me so much I had to quit reading anything about it until I talked to my doctor so he could explain some things to me. I has so scared for my son that I was going to lose him next. I just wanted to share my story of my husband and daughter so that maybe this will help save someone else. I want to show you pictures of them and my granddaughter but I can’t get them to copy on here. Thanks for letting me tell you my story.

Pam Myer

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Brock Fraley-33

Personal Stories: Brock Fraley

I had been working a lot of hours at work and remodeling a house with the little time I had left. I was working on the house (putting up a closet rod in the bedroom) when I felt something flip me in the chest. Moment later I was on the floor trying to crawl to the living room couch. I was unable to stand and in to much pain to yell for help. I thought I had done something to my back.

I  was on the couch for about 15 minutes, constantly moving and rotating around, trying to find a position that didn’t hurt. My wife finally said she was going to take me to the hospital, and with some arguing, I gave in and decided to go. At this point in my life I had never been injured, never been really sick, and had never even sit on a hospital bed.

The hospital was about 35 minutes from our house and it seemed liked the longest trip I had ever taken. About half way there my chest started to hurt. The only way I could describe the pain was it felt like something was pulling my shoulders back while a truck was parked on my chest. I WAS IN REAL PAIN.

We finally made it to the hospital and luckily went right to a bed from the emergency room. I told the nurse of my back and chest pain. After jotting a few notes down she left my wife and me in the little curtained area. I was constantly moving trying to find some comfort and a doctor noticed my movements through the curtain. He stuck his head in and asked if I was having a lot of discomfort and asked me to tell the story again of why I was there. He then said he was rushing me to have a ct scan. I kept asking him if he could see my back with a ct scan. He just told me to remain calm and not worry just let him do what he was trained to do. After the scan they were rushing me down a hallway and he was running beside of us saying that I had a tear in my aorta that was 22″ long and that they were not equipped to handle that kind of surgery. He told me that he had a helicopter ready to take me to a hospital that could help me and that if I wanted to survive the trip I needed to stay calm.

During the flight nothing excited happened. I just lay on the cot and talked to the paramedic (I guess I was pretty pumped up on pain medicine or I was in shock). When we landed I was rushed into the hospital. I can’t remember much, except for throwing up a lot (a whole lot) of blood. I remember my family freaking out with I began to throw up blood and the doctors telling them to leave.

Next thing I remember is waking up and the doctor telling me that I was stable and that they were going to treat it with medicine and see if it would heal itself. I was in the hospital for 19 days. On the 19th day the doctors told me that would give me a ct scan and if everything was well they would let me go home. So they took me down and I had the test and was brought back to my room. I was told if the test came back “o.k” I would be allowed to leave. Shortly the doctor came in the room and said something I will never forget, “The dissection is continuing to tear. It is doing something very uncommon and is tearing upward and is 1/16 of an inch from the artery that go to your brain. We must do surgery immediately. This surgery is going to be very dangerous and you may not make it through it. You should contact you family.”

Needless to say, I lived. The doctors replaced 6″ of my aorta and bypassed my subclavian artery. They will continue to monitor the other 16″ that remained dissected. I now go to Cleveland Clinic to get scans and when it reaches 5.5cm I will have another surgery. My life has changed tremendously and I really don’t like the lifestyle I have been forced to live. I’m now 34 years old and have a life threatening illness.

Man when life wants to get hard…it really gets hard.

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Jim Horvath-Stange-34

Personal Stories: Jim Horvath-Stange


My name is Jim Horvath-Stange, today marks the 9th anniversary of my dissection and emergency surgery. It seems like yesterday. I had a Type I dissection on 8/25/2000 beginning just above the right coronary orifice producing a 28cm tear. My symptoms were stabbing chest pain radiating up both sides of my neck stopping at the ear canals of both ears. The pain increased every time I took a deep breath.

With my wife (RN) and I (past O.R. Tech) for many years, gave me some aspirin and I laid down in bed while waiting for the paramedics to arrive. I tried to remain as calm as possible for I knew something was wrong and I didn’t want to make things worse. I was transported to a local community hospital. When I arrived at the E.R., I stated I wanted to be transported to University Hospital Case Medical Center, Cleveland, OH. It’s where I work and wanted to be at a major medical center. I’m happy for my insistence for transportation for they were diagnosing me with an anxiety attack. This all began at 6:30 a.m. I was in surgery at 4:30 p.m. that evening. When they performed and Echo Cardiogram and said my aortic root was 4.5cm, I knew I was headed for surgery and what needed to be done. When I was an O.R. Tech, I assisted in cardiac procedures. It’s funny, thinking I might die never crossed my mind. The thing I was thinking of was the kind of aortic valve I might end up with, mechanical or pig. Funny how the mind works.

My ascending aorta was replace just above the coronary orifices with a dacron graft and had my aortic valve repaired no replacement. I was back to work almost two months to the day post-op. On June 19, 2001, I had a second surgery involving the total replacement of my aortic arch with another dacron graft. It’s called an Elephant Trunk Procedure. A portion of the old aneurysm had come loose and was acting as a valve restricting the blood to my head. Two major surgeries in less than 10 months.

We don’t suffer from Marfans but we have a very strong family history of aortic dissections on my mother’s side. I lost my uncle at the age of 51, his daughter at 28, my mother at 67. I had my dissection at the age of 45. I will be 55 at the end of this year.

I’ve been tested for the Lowes-Dietz Syndrome. The results were inconclusive and Johns-Hopkins have a second blood sample to perform further studies. That’s been over three years now.

I’m physically limited in what I can do on a daily basis. My cardiologist asks me if I’m still working each time I come for my check up. Of course…I’m still raising teen-agers. My health is good. I log approximately 7,000 mile a year on my motorcycle.

The issue I’ve been facing is that my coronary arteries are now aneurysmal. The surgeon who follows me now (He did not perform my two previous surgeries) says my coronaries have been large from the beginning and they are not a concern and shouldn’t pose a problem. Current studies supports his point. Surgery should only be performed if coronary artery disease is involved. That my be the case however, they’re still a concern to me.

I plan next year to celebrate my 10th year post-op by riding my motorcycle from NE Ohio to San Diego, CA with my three sons.

Wish me luck and keep me in your prayers.

Jim Horvath-Stange

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Scott Shockley-32

Personal Stories: Scott Shockley

I suffered a descending aortic dissection on a Friday afternoon in January of 1995 at the age of 32. The original sensation was a zipping sensation in my chest as I was eating a chicken salad sandwich with a friend of my in the US Senate cafeteria. I tried to walk to the first aid station but collapsed in the stair way and was rushed to the George Washington University Hospital emergency room in Washington DC.

After having been miss-diagnosed and released from the GW emergency room (and two other ER’s that I went to over the weekend) I returned to GW on Monday complaining of residual chest pain and back pain. They gave me muscle relaxants for the back pain and sent me on my way. I suffered for a week with my right leg going numb if I walked for any long distances.

The next week I went to my local home town medical doctor in Snow Hill Maryland for a physical, and this 70 year old doctor noticed a few clues that had been missed by the ER. Looking at the same x-ray taken by GW, he noticed that my aorta was swollen. He also noticed that the blood pressure in my ankle was lower on the left hand side of my body then the right. He sent me for an echocardiogram at a nearby medical center.

The technologist went white as a sheet while giving me an exam and hurried out of the room to retrieve the doctor. After reviewing the scan they sent me to the emergency room of the nearest hospital (Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury Maryland) in a wheel chair refusing my instance that I could walk.

After further examination at the hospital, they were able to diagnose the dissection and after a few days of extensive tests I had cardio-vascular surgery. They operated from the back and repaired the tear. I recovered for a month and was finally able to return to work.

The following month I suffered from an ascending aortic dissection. Went I felt the sensation again, I knew what it was and this time I refused to go to the nearest hospital and took a taxi to Georgetown University Hospital. My cardiologist from Salisbury called Georgetown ER and told them to expect me. After getting the white glove treatment and escorted to a bed (no insurance info, no wait) I passed out in the ER.

Georgetown University performed open heart surgery and replaced my aortic valve with a St. Judes Aortive valve and replaced the upper aorta (but not the carotid arteries). I was in an induced coma for a week while they waited for me to stabilize and then was released a month later.

After my recovery, I took part in a genetic study at the National Institute of Health where they diagnosed me with a connective tissue disorder (not Marfans). I have two older uncles who passed away from aortic dissection and a third who has recovered from an aortic dissection without surgery.

I was fine for ten years while being monitored by Johns Hopkins University. In 2005 I underwent surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm which was the result of the pressure on my lower aorta now that 70% of the upper aorta and been replaced.

To this day, 95% of my aorta has been replaced and I go for annual scans at Johns Hopkins.

I cloud go into greater detail and could provide more detailed information but wanted to just hit the high points since mine is such an involved case.

As you have mentioned, this diagnoses is often over looked especially in younger patients. They think mine was triggered by being hit by a car while riding my bicycle two months before I even felt my first symptoms.

Anyone that has suffered a blunt force trauma, and is suffering from chest pain and/or back pain, and show no signs of a heart attack, should absolutely insist on a MRI or CT scan, or at the least an echocardiogram.

If there is anything I can do to help others by giving them hope and providing information, please let me know.

Contact Scott

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!)

Melissa Curtin-34

Personal Stories: Melissa Curtin

Hi Brian, Thank you for this website! We spoke shortly after I experienced a Type 1, Type A ascending aortic dissection 4/10/08. I was 34 1/2 years old, very healthy and 3 weeks post-partum, just gave birth naturally to a healthy baby girl. (This was my second child). Like many who have survived and posted to your site, I feel very lucky considering the severity of what I went through.

Here’s my story from what I remember.

I was on maternity leave from FT work from a position I took about 7 months prior. My plan was to take 4 weeks off and bring the baby to work with me after that point. 3 weeks into my leave on Thursday, April 10, 2008, my husband had dropped my son off at 9 a.m. to try out a new daycare/preschool we started our son that day. We had a leisurely morning – nothing special. Part of my wisdom tooth broke off either that morning or the night before – not sure now.

So I thought that was my big issue of the day and I would make an appointment with the dentist. I suggested to my husband about 11/1130a that we walk up with the infant to our local coffee shop and get coffee before he had to meet someone for lunch. Off we walked a short distance a few blocks, I ordered a half caf- or decaf iced coffee drink, bumped into a friend – we all chatted away. My husband left shortly after the coffee arrived for his lunch meeting. I unpacked my laptop thinking I would get a head start on some work before official returning back. With my cell phone, I called the daycare guy to let him know I would pick up Logan later in the day. As I am on the phone about noon, I am startled by a sharp pain and I remember saying, “I’m sorry I have to go – I’m having this bad pain” and hung up abruptly.

I signaled to the coffee roaster to come over. The baby was sleeping in her car seat with stroller. I told the roaster something was very wrong and that she should call my husband and probably 911, but after my husband arrives and to make sure that whatever happens – make sure the baby is ok. The pain was a ripping, tearing pain that went up my back and down my chest, then when it hit the top of my neck I threw up. Because I just had a baby, I also peed myself. Not fun in a public place. I started losing feeling in my legs and my vision was going blotchy as if I was about to black out. I am a very healthy person, so I knew this was serious as I sat on the couch– everything was happening so fast. (A few days prior I was having chest pains when I breathed in deeply, but they went away. I was not tying anything together in the moment). I continue to feel very ill, confused and a bit scared.

My husband arrives and walks me into the bathroom where he notices my toenails were purple. The ambulance arrives moments later and I am in so much pain I cannot articulate the pain I experienced when asked. On the gurney I went and my last memory was heading out the bathroom door and I lost consciousness somewhere between the bathroom and the exit door to the parking lot. My next memory was waking up in ICU at Stanford University Medical Center with some of my family sitting around. This was about 2 days later from the coffee shop — and I was cut open and had no idea what I just went through: A complete aortic dissection (Type A, Type 1) in the inner layer of the aorta. I tore from almost where the heart meets the aorta (ascending), down to my femural artery and up to my corata artery in my brain on the right side — ending up with emergency open heart surgery.

Back up to Thursday’s ambulance ride. My husband went home with the baby to pack what he needed to go to Kaiser Santa Rosa and follow the ambulance. About a half hour ride from Sonoma to Santa Rosa. It took the ICU and emergency staff about 6 hours to figure out what was happening after MRI’s and a couple CT scans. No prior history of high blood pressure, or heart disease or anyting that would reasonably cause this to happen. In the ER, my blood pressure was non existent on one side of my body and very high on the other.

When the second CT scan came back the ER doctor couldn’t believe her eyes and instructed everyone I needed to be intubated & stabalized to be emergency airlifted by helicopter to Stanford University Hospital (73 miles away) for emergency aortic dissection repair and this was very high risk. My husband, baby and now sister were in the ER/ICU and they sent the chaplain in. Nurses told my husband the chances are very slim 2% and would improve to 50/50 if I got into surgery alive. (I am unconsious throughout this whole process and do not recall anything, luckily). Medical staff at Kaiser gave me high amounts of drugs to stabalize me for the helicopter ride, then another ambulance ride to the small airport in Santa Rosa, CA to Stanford. Husband drove down over an hour and a half with my sister’s boyfriend, and sister stayed at my house with both kids and a friend came over to help. After landing, I was ushered into emergency 5 hour open heart surgery and survived. My family in NY received a call that said, “if you want to see Melissa alive and say goodbye, you better get on the next plane.” and so several members did just that.

When I woke up in ICU – I remember Saturday when family was there and I spoke a little. I remember asking for my children and made everyone laugh when I said, “I was just going to get a cup of coffee”. I was told I opened my eyes on Friday, but went back to sleep. Waking up groggy, confused and well shocked I was split open and stitched in immense pain – there was a lot of unanswered questions. Spending 12 days in ICU provided some answers, but this was all very tough since I had an infant and a 3 year old at home. My husband brought the kids once to visit – otherwise, I was at the hospital staff’s mercy for recovery. Stanford and Kaiser both did an amazing job in diagnosing, surgery and post care.

The surgeon at Stanford Dr. Reitz told me that it was the connective tissue changes of pregnancy that caused the dissection in my case and his guess was I had blood pressure control issues before- my blood pressure throughout my pregnancy was 110/55. I’m sure I had days of high blood pressure, but as a daily norm- it was low. Dr. Reitz mentioned I didn’t fit the typical patient – men between 50-70 with high blood pressure, heart disease, family history, or Marfan’s. My cardiologist at Kaiser suggested that I have a weakness in the artery wall and the pregnancy tissue changes and hormones instigated the weakness causing the tear.

I recovered very quickly — too quickly some may say. I was checking my email in ICU within a few days after the emergency dissection and surgery. I know, crazy – but it was my connection to the outside world. One needs something to do from being couped up in a
hospital for 12 days :)! Like most open heart surgery patients, I was instructed not to drive for 4-6 weeks or lift anything over 5 pounds – two things challenging to do with 2 small children!

So, this is now 7 months later…it all worked out ok and I’ve had to take a look at this situation from many angles. Consider looking at this as a wake up call for me and an opportunity to do things a bit differently, perhaps slower. I am amazed at how well I have felt all along in this recovery and because of that I did go back to work 5 weeks after surgery 3-4 days a week (FT) and then after 2 months, went to PT and then after another 2-3 months gave my notice altogether. Looking back, I was a bit too ambitous to return to work, especially when I also had a 8 week old when I returned. At this point I am freelancing and enjoying life more for it can be gone in a blink. I am blessed to have been given a chance to enjoy my children and family.

P.S. On the way home from work one Thursday night, I went back to the Kaiser ER to see if I could get a list of the nurses & doctors who were there when I came in on 4/10/08, so I could thank them– sicne I had no memory. Turns out most of the nurses were there and when I walked in to the ER and announced I was there 5 weeks prior, the ER nurse at the window started screaming nurses names saying, “your triple A is here- she’s here”. I met with the nurses and medical staff for awhile. They told me that while unconsious in the ER, fading in and out, I was talking completely coherently about my waterbirth and I asked them not to give me drugs because I still wanted to nurse my infant. They also told me they thought I would die and everyone was very upset. All the nurses were thrilled that I returned and mentioned no one ever comes back to thank them. I made their evenings and that made mine. I am so grateful for their professional courage to do whatever it took to diagnose me and keep me alive.

So please – remember your nurses, doctors and the special medical staff that were apart of your journey. I hope you had as positive a experience as I did with a talented medical staff. Thank you!

email me at


Josh Clamon-30

Personal Stories: Josh Clamon

Hello everyone. My name is Josh I’m 30 years old and a survivor or an Aortic tear.

My story is a lot different than most on this site. It was May 3 2008 on a Friday evening 2 days before my daughters 5th birthday. when my life changed forever. I was in a really bad accident on a go-cart going around 45 or 50mph when I slammed into a culvert and came to an instant stop. My 5yr old seen it all poor kid had thought her dad was dieing because of all the blood. The seat belt broke and my chest hit the steering wheel with everything I had. I got out of the cart and started to walk hunched over trying to catch my breath from the wind being knocked out of me it kind of felt like being hit in the sternum with a ball bat. While trying to walk I noticed my right ankle was broken and it hurt pretty bad so I sat down and leaned back trying to figure out what just happened to me.

The pain I was feeling in my chest was so intense I thought I broke something in my chest and decided to tell my 5 yr old daughter to grab my cell phone and call 911.The paramedics arrived and took me to the local hospital and filled me up on morphine and oxycodone. They did a ct scan I believe and told me I had a spot on my left lung and I would be getting a life flight to University of Michigan hospital where they discovered a tear in my Aorta and told me I would need emergency open heart surgery and replace the torn aorta with a graft.

At that point I thought my life was over as I new it. I remember giving all my family hugs and told them I will be fine I’m tough and this will be a walk in the park.(YAH RIGHT) As the team of folks rushed me down the halls to the OR It seemed like an eternity, my whole life flashed through my mind and started to tear up all while the anesthesiologist reassured my she was going to take great care of me.AsI wound up having the surgery 9hours of it they cut me open under my left arm from my ribs all the way around up to my shoulder blade. I have never had any kind of surgery before. I was in pretty good shape I thought. I could run a mile in 5:30,was nothing for me to get on my mountain bike and go for a 50 mile ride. Raced motocross as well as snowmobiles, hunted and fished, and worked out all the time and played numerous sports.

After the operation I was placed in the cardiac ICU for recovery. When the aesthetics wore off I became combative I tore out my breathing tube because it was choking me. So they tied my hands down and put it back in. This did not go over so well for me I’m a strong fighter so I started chewing on it I’ll fix you I thought). Mind you I’m still in and out of consciousness from the surgery’s the team of Doc’s and nurses decided not to follow protocol and remove the ventilator. Then I get the shingles of all things from the trauma man o man does that stuff hurt closes thing I can compare to that is dumping gas on your leg and lighting it on fire no joke.

The next week was pure hell I thought. It seemed as though all the doctors had nothing but bad news. I had numerous blood clots in my leg from the broken ankle and clots in my lungs so they placed a Gunther Tulip Vena Cava filter in my neck and gave me about 5 shots a day of Heparin in the stomach of which burns like nobody’s bussiness.They expect you up and walking the next day but I couldn’t very well in my position. They told me I needed to walk to the end of the hall and back in order to be released. So I manned up and told my family I will walk with crutches to the end of the hall and back if it kills me and I did, I played it off like it didn’t hurt but Oh man it took everything I had and then some not to wince from the pain under my left arm.

My life as I new it no longer existed. I went from a trill seeking adrenalin junky to someone who had limits on everything. I was so bitter at the world and the doc’s because it seemed like they always had bad news as far as my limits with my current lifestyle. At one point I told the doc’s and nurses to be quiet unless they had something good to say-So they started telling me most people with this injury don’t make it. They die before the paramedics even arrive and just how lucky I really am to still be here.

Well I spent 8 days in cardiac ice with more bells and gadgets hooked up to me than I new existed.

It has been 9 months since the accident and do feel pretty good some days and others I feel a lot of sharp pains in the heart area they say is normal and may take a year to stop. and some days I just find myself so emotional and overwhelmed I guess from all the meds I now have to take and limits on activities. I have a 50# weight limit for the rest of my life and cannot strain to lift anything. But I’ve always been one to push the envelope in fact I asked my surgeon 3 months after the surgery if I could go to Cedar Pointe which is an amusement park and rode every roller coaster in the park.Yah it hurt but I felt alive again well worth it I guess.

The one thing I have a problem with is the depression how do you deal with it? I have never had a problem with depression I feel like I lost my edge, get scared easily, or nervous about everything and wonder how long I have to live. I now don’t take to much for granted and try to live everyday like its my last. It really makes you appreciate all the little things in life.

Thanks for listening and sorry its so long.

One day at a time…..

Josh Clamon

Eric Sonnie-38

Personal Stories: Eric Sonnie

Hi all my name is Eric, Its been 10 months since my surgery….cant believe its been that long I feel normal except for the 12 inch scar on my chest…Let me get back to the story of my life…It was January 18,2008 and I came home from work. I had 12 people coming over my house cause I was taking all to high school musical on ice and than I was taking a shower and I felt like I was having a heart attack….Being the stud that I told everybody that the show must go on.

On the way there my tongue went numb and it was scared…it was time for the Cleveland clinic…I spent the night there and the kids saw the show…thank GOD…My sister is a O.R. nurse and as I was in the room with me she wanted to see my pulse….the doctor thought I was born with a weak pulse and my sister said I should see another doc.

Do I need to continue…On Jan 25th my world went crazy…this day my sister set up with a ultra sound with a great doc at the clinic and I barely remember this…my doc told me to sit in the wheel chair and I’m admitting you to E.R NOW…Holy sh..the entire Cleveland clinic came to my rescue…some saw me the week before and cried, some saw me now and.

I woke up 2 days later with a breathing tube in my throat and life still coming out of me…wtf is this I thought I’m 38 and in my prime if I was Bret Farve….I went rehab and they were awesome I ran…I lifted weights…I felt like a million bucks….And the saga continues………..I lost my dealership, I lost my wife and all I ever wanted to do is be happy…I try to feel everyday like I am on top of the world,….but I want to just be back to jan.08 when I was invincible…..My name is Eric Sonnie and I have a arotic dissection what do I do now………My email is….Please somebody tell me…………….

Tony Penland-35

Personal Stories: Tony Penland

My name is Tony Penland I am 35 years old, on September 11th of this year{08} I was taken to Duke University Hospital, thinking maybe I was having a heart attack. I had passed out 2 times in our bathroom here at home and my wife called 911 as soon as possible. Now I don’t really remember much after the ride to the hospital only hearing my wife and mother and sisters talking in the emergency room.

I woke up in the ICU department 4 days later having no idea what had happened. My surgeon came in with my family and told me what had taken place. I had an aortic dissection surgery. He told me that in the aorta there are 3 leaflets that come off of it, well I was born with only 2, so over time the back flow and pressure build up caused the dissection. It was still a few days later until I realized exactly how serious this procedure really is. During the week in the hospital the diabetic doctors that were working with me came in and thanked me for letting them work on my case, because there was no reason for her to be standing there talking to me.

Well that’s when it sat in that I was blessed by the hand of god. I don’t think I have to describe the emotions that I felt, I’m sure you guys understand what I’m talking about. I am extremely thankful to my surgeon Dr. Jeffery Gaca and his team, there are no words to describe how i fell about these people, I owe this man more than he could ever know.

I know that there are so many life changes that I have to make, I have to find a whole new line of work to be in, and the meds I will be on for the rest of my life, but compared to the alternative I think I can handle it. I am so thank full to find this site, it is like another blessing in my life. Look forward to talking with all of you in the future. Thanks for letting me tell my story.

Tony Penland

UPDATE: 8/19/2010:

Well I have actually posted my story on here and you can read it in the Ascending Dissection by age under the thirties age group. I just wanted to come on and let everyone know that I celebrated my 2 yr. anniversary of my dissection surgery this past week. Sorry I didn’t start off this message with my name, but I am Tony Penland and I live in the triangle area of North Carolina. We are smack in the middle of what most people who are sports fans call ‘Tobacco Road’. I live Hillsborough NC which is about 15 minutes from UNC’s campus and about 20 minutes From Duke University…..GO BLUE DEVILS!!!! Like I said it has been 2 years since I had my surgery at Duke hospital, where my ascending dissection was corrected and had a mechanical aortic valve put in.

I have had a few trips back in the hospital because my blood pressure will go crazy on me sometimes and they have to admit me to get it under control. The first time this happened i did have some pain in my chest and back, which freaked me out, but after ct scans and other tests everything was fine. I just want to tell Brian how much I appreciate this site and everything he does for the people on here. It is a wonderful felling to know that I can come to this site and talk with others who have been through the traumatic experience that I have. I still thank God everyday for giving me a second chance at life, and also for giving my surgeon Dr. Gaza at Duke the skills he needed to successfully complete my surgery with no complications, ya know 9 and a half hours is a pretty long time perform surgery, but he would have stayed in there if it had taken 20. If anyone ever needs to talk to someone or an needs anything you can email me at and i will send you my number.

Thanks again Brian, and to everyone on here…..Live life to the fullest, don’t take any day for granted, be happy, love your family, but don’t forget to thank God for all of these blessings he has given us. Thanks…


Personal Stories: Jeff

On March 13, 2001 my aorta dissected. I fortunately sensed something was wrong and made my way to the hospital treatment center a mile and a half away. By the time I got there I couldn’t move my legs. They transported me to the main hospital and performed emergency surgery. My prognosis was 50/50 to survive the surgery and 95% paralization. My aortic valve was replaced and my aortic arch has a dacron sleeve.

After I woke up from surgery, I could move my toes somewhat. There were all kinds of symptoms I experienced over the years from the blood flow being cut off to my spinal cord. Sharp pains in my feet and legs and other areas. Numbness like frostbite in my legs and feet. In the beginning they were new and more frequent. All these were not permanent. I still can get some of them but because I know they will go away it doesn’t bother me that much. When I got out after surgery, I too couldn’t read most sites because they were very negative and felt sorry for themselves. They made my stomach hurt just reliving it. No positive energy or information at all. That was a feeling I wasn’t prepared to give into.

I live each day with the prospect of more surgery but so far I am good. I walk, work out and do most things people 10-15 years younger can’t do. I exercise regularly when I can and just live. My doctors told me to be careful and enjoy my life. It is fairly easy for me to get wrapped up in living and to forget that I am supposed to be being careful. Careful has been engrained in my head but doesn’t run my life. I have been living with this for over 7 years. I would estimate that I am approximately 85% of what I was before the surgery. I have moments that it gets the best of me but I don’t give in to the fear.

When you get out it is scary. Everything scares you and is unknown whether it is something to be scared of. I would just check them out even if it was with a catscan, and then if it wasn’t anything I would try to keep that in mind the next time. It may take awhile but eventually you become more one with your feelings and sensations.

I didn’t remember any of it but my body did. Whenever something happened that my body would remember, it would freak out and scare the heck out of me. As you get used to it, those feelings will dissipate.

Good Luck. If you have any questions of me, lets see if you can ask.


John Smith Jr. Story-37

Personal Stories: John Smith Jr.  Story

My name is Rose, my husband John died on December 31, 2007 at the age of 37. His birthday was also in December so he had just turned 37. John and I were high school sweethearts, we were married when I was 16 and he was 17. We have four beautiful children, two by birth and two by choice. The oldest is 19 and the youngest is 2.

My husbands story is different than the ones I have read on here. I will share with you the last

2 1/2 days of my husbands life.

He woke me up around midnight (late Friday early Saturday) complaining of chest pains. He had done this before and it was indigestion. Shortly thereafter, he started vomiting. I figured he had a stomach virus or something. I was a little short with him because the children and I had to leave at 6:30 in the morning. When we left that morning John was still in the bathroom vomiting.

Around 9:30 am he called his sister who lives about 45 minutes away and told her that he was home alone and that he thought he was dying. He couldn’t breath, was still vomiting and had severe chest pain. She told him to call 911, he did, the EMT’s were there within minutes. When he got to the hospital the ER doctor told him that he thought he had “walking pneumonia”. They did a chest x-ray on him – which states “at patients request” that says the lungs are clear. The ER doctor sent him home anyway with “walking pneumonia” as the diagnosis along with some antibiotics. Needless to say he was extremely embarrassed for calling 911 and all that was wrong with him was pneumonia.

He went to bed and pretty much stayed there on Saturday, on Sunday he was up a little, but still had a hard time breathing, chest pain, just plain out didn’t feel good. On Monday, New Years Eve, he called me at work and said that my dad (who is elderly) wanted him to do some repairs on his house that day and that he didn’t feel like it. He was worried about upsetting my dad, so he drove across the road (instead of walking) to try to talk my dad out of working. He had been in my dad’s house for about 7 or 8 minutes when he grabbed his chest and said “I’m dying Joe” and fell over. My dad called my sister who is a RN because she lives up the road and then he called 911.

My sister got there within minutes and started CPR. She continued the CPR until the EMT’s arrived and then still assisted them. He never responded.

We were all in shock. Here was this perfectly healthy, active 37 year old man, dead. He had just been to the hospital two days before, all that was wrong with him was pneumonia. How could it kill him?

The coroner’s investigator called me the next day and said that he died from a “Thoracic Aortic Dissection”. He also said that if the ER doctor would have found it on Saturday that they could have saved him.

Does anyone have a similar story? It will be 6 months next Monday since John has been gone, and I am still so angry. So hurt. I am looking for some answers, like what kind of tests should the ER doctors do when someone comes in complaining of chest pain? The only test that was done on him was the chest x-ray. Nothing else.

Thank you for reading our story.

Contact Rose

Carolyn Christensen-37

Personal Stories: Carolyn Christensen

Thursday, October 19, 2006, two days after my wedding, I was coming home from work on the train. The usual trip started off as always, but by the time I reached my stop I had a sense something was terribly wrong. I started feeling pain ripping across my chest and my first thought was that I was getting pneumonia. Starting to feel upset because we were leaving for our honeymoon in two days, I climbed aboard the bus for the 20 minute ride home.

All I kept thinking was I had to get home to my boys (who were home after school) although the pain just kept increasing. I kept hanging my head on my lap and clutching my briefcase until finally my stop arrived. I climbed off the bus, breathlessly waited for the traffic light to change and crossed the street to walk to our house. I got up our stairs, opened the door and collapsed. My 12 year old son, Markus, (my hero) grabbed the phone and immediately called 911. My 10 year old son, Aleks, (my other hero) all the while stroked my head and assured me I would be fine. It seemed like it took forever for the emergency to arrive and by the time they did I felt so confused about the whole thing. The pain was still bad and I had a difficult time conveying exactly what was wrong without sounding like I simply “couldn’t breathe”.

I was loaded into the ambulance and Aleks came with me. Markus stayed behind at home so when my new husband, Mike, came home from work he could find me. I was sent to a “country” hospital in a small town called Port Perry which is north of our home as the larger (and closer) hospitals were full. I agreed to this as at this point I thought I really would just feel better seeing any doctor and seriously, how bad could this really be? We arrived at about 6pm. It took quite a while to see a doctor and the pain just kept getting worse.

Aleks felt so helpless at watching me become increasingly more agitated. About half an hour later Mike and Markus arrived. I felt relieved to see my husband, although I felt like all I could do was complain. It felt like nothing was happening fast enough. Finally the doctor came in and said he had ordered an X-ray. I was so relieved because that would would reveal pneumonia. I’d be treated and everything would be fine. I was convinced.

Either that or my wedding jitters had caught up with me and the whole thing was in my mind. I remember the X-ray well. Holding my hands above my head and thinking I was going to drop to the floor. The X-ray technician was so patient with me and he managed to get four good shots (or so he said). I was returned to the room in emergency and was really surprised when the doctor walked in moments later. His tone was completely different than it had been the last time he spoke to me. He explained that I would be sent to Oshawa General Hospital for a CAT scan and that my pain would be taken care of in the meantime. The nurse came in and started an IV although I thought it all seemed a bit drastic for pneumonia. By this time, Mike had called his parents to the hospital.

I assumed to take the boys back to their house, which is what eventually happened. At that point I was already being loaded into the ambulance and we were on our way to hospital #2.

We arrived at Oshawa General Hospital at 7:30pm. We went straight through the emergency doors through the corridor, past the X-ray/CAT waiting room and straight into the CAT scan room. I commented on the fact that they were having such a slow night I was being carted right in. The technician told me it was only for the VIPs. Funny, it didn’t yet dawn on me that maybe something serious was going on. I was still certain that whatever this was would be something an antibiotic could treat. By this time, the morphine was kicking in and I was really feeling no pain. I put my hands over my head in the CAT scan.

I got off the stretcher. I was cracking jokes. What on earth was happening? Where was my husband? Where were the kids? Back to the room in emergency. The trauma room? Okay, sure, I’m so oblivious. I wonder if my husband has made it there yet following the ambulance. I still think it’s all being blown out of proportion. The doctor comes in. He’s a very serious man. He introduces himself and instructs the nurse to keep the morphine flowing.

He is very concerned. He tells me I have a dissected aneurysm and that they are looking for a surgeon as we speak. The words don’t sink in. My mother died in 1990 from a ruptured aneurysm at home while she was making coffee. This isn’t happening. I have pneumonia. I’m sure of it. Where’s my husband? The pain is gone. Everyone’s being so nice. Too nice. Time is so slow. Can I breathe? What is there to say? The doctor is gone the nurses are asking me about my wedding, my kids, how am I feeling. My husband walks in.

He knows. The nurse told him. What a wife he got. Two days married and here we are. We don’t dare say anything that sounds like it could be the end. I think I tried to make a joke out of it. My mother in law is there too. What do you say? I ask who else is here. It’s my father in law. He makes me laugh. I remember asking to bring him in too. I can’t really remember too many details after that. Could be all the morphine.

At some point I was loaded into another ambulance and we were on our way to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. A surgeon had been found. Two nurses came from the trauma room. I remember being really thirsty and asking for drinks. I joked with the nurse that after this we would go out for Diet Coke slushies. They wouldn’t let me fall asleep. Again I told them about my wedding. What a perfect day it had been. The scene was surreal. I was so doped up I wasn’t even thinking about the fact I was going into surgery that night.

I kept trying to peer out the back window of the ambulance to see if Mike was following behind, but all I could see the whole way were the blinking lights from the ambulance and the sea of cars divided on the road behind. It made me appreciate all the drivers who follow the rules and pull to the side for the ambulance to get through. We made it to St. Mike’s and headed straight to the ICU. I remember Mike and his mom being there suddenly and the surgeon arriving. Dr. Lee Errett. A very, very serious man. He explained what would happen. The likelihood of success. He predicted a 7 hour surgery to begin in the morning when the team was assembled. There is comfort in knowing that you are in good hands. I signed something in my new name. I consented to put my life in his hands. The love of my life. Standing there. I don’t remember saying goodbye. Maybe because I didn’t want there to be a goodbye. I went to sleep.

For three days.

Sunday, October 22, 2006. I woke up to a nurse telling me we were going to wash my hair. I remember trying to sit up. Trying to cooperate. Really wanting to fall back asleep again. We did it although I felt like water was pouring all over the place. Apparently I had the whole family waiting to see me. Although, I found out later, that visitors had come while I was still under the anesthetic. I remember one distinctive voice it seemed like a dream at the time, but turned out to be a family friend. I still am amazed that I could hear her voice. I had to call her afterward to tell her I remembered. Actually it was the only thing I remember from the “comatose” stage. Then the relatives came in. I was so groggy, but so happy at the same time to see my husband. Hold his hand. Kiss him!! I felt broken all over, but I remembered everything, everyone. As far as I knew at least I had my mind still. It was time to be moved to the cardiac floor.

Mike ensured I had a private room which was amazing. I spent a week there mostly just trying to get out of bed, walk around the hospital corridors and fight a staph infection I contracted. There were a few days where I felt depressed, lost and wondering why this was happening to me. I had no appetite and no desire to watch tv in between visits from various relatives and coworkers. The support from everyone was unbelievable and so very appreciated. What a sight I must have been. It was a week in the hospital where I honestly couldn’t have felt more loved. Seeing my boys for the first time was so emotional, so delicate. I value them so much and they were such troopers going through all this.

I’m 39 now…it’s been 1 1/2 years since “the aneurysm”…I feel great although some days can still be kind of rough if I’ve overexerted myself or I’m really stressed out, but for the most part…I’m doing fine and life is going on!

P.S. We never did take our luxury honeymoon and lost the money we saved for years for it because we didn’t have travelers insurance. That sucks!

Contact Carolyn

Aaron Roberts-37

Personal Stories: Aaron Roberts Story

Events of My Type I Acute Aortic Dissection.

Tuesday September 11, 2007.  I arrived in Chicago for a series of meetings.  The first meeting and lunch went excellently.  I navigated out to the suburbs to get setup in my hotel.  I normally stay near Midway or Ohare, but could not get a room either place and ended up in the western suburbs near Hinsdale.

I had trouble getting my hotel internet connection to work and worked with several folks overseas trying to get it to work.  I eventually went to a nearby Barns and Noble to update my email.

I returned to my room and when I got up of the bed I felt a pain in my chest almost like a muscle tear.  I felt dizzy and light headed.  Then I tried to walk over the phone and collapsed between the wall and the TV stand / dresser.  I just happened to look at the nearby clock and saw that it was about 9:30 PM.  I woke up about 10 PM and made it a short distance back to my bed and called my wife via my mobile phone.  (I have always had her number programmed in the 5 speed dial position because the 5 key has always had a little bump on it, so I could call in the dark or on the road.  It just made it easy and I never had to think about it.)

When I called my wife I told her that I had fainted and I wasnt sure if I had had a heart attack.  I asked her to look up my symptoms on the internet to see if we should call 911.

She immediately looked and told me I should call 911, I mentioned to her that I could not figure out how to dial 911.  That sent a signal to her that maybe something was wrong, she hung up with me called the hotel and had them call 911 (I generally just have a copy of all my flight and hotel booking itineraries forwarded to her in case she should ever need to reach me.)

After she spoke to the front desk and got the 911 call going she called me back.  I did manage to call 911 from my cell phone, but they could not figure out where I was and went to the wrong place.  The EMTs my wife had called arrived in minutes.  I had my door open and was on the bed.

I explained the chest pain, I also was beginning to feel better, almost embarrassed that I had bothered them.  I was very pale and sweating profusely so they told me that they were going to take me to Hinsdale Hospital.

I dont really remember much except they kept asking me about drugs and I kept telling them I had a Target Pizza and Garlic Chips.

Per the medical reports I continued to be very talkative in the ER.  I had low blood pressure and a normal EKG.

The Medical staff told me that I kept asking them to help me and kept telling them that they werent helping.

Im not completely clear on all the events that follow but have attempted to put together everyones stories in the correct order.

At some point, the Paramedics and the medical staff called my wife trying to get medical history.

At some point in the ER or the CT lab I crashed and had to be resuscitated.  The ER doctor also drew the blood off my heart to keep me alive.

Because of the pressure from the internal bleeding, the medical staff had a very difficult time intubating me. (I lost all my blood eventually my cholesterol went from about 200 to about 80 thanks to health donor blood as every drop of my blood was lost.).  They were eventually able to get me intubated using some fiber optic equipment and amazing technique.  In fact, almost everyone mentioned how that saved my life just to get me to surgery.

The CT scan confirmed that I had an Aortic rupture.  The prepped me for emergency open heart surgery.

The medical team again called my wife for more history, and update on my condition, and consent.

They told her to get to Chicago as fast as she could that I had a 50 / 50 chance of survival.

One of the ER intake coordinators helped my wife book a flight to Chicago for 6 AM the next morning.

While all of this had been going on, my wife had called her family in New Mexico to pray.  Eventually as things progressed two of her sisters made arrangements to come to Dallas to stay with our kids.

One of my wifes friends came over to help her get packed and stay with the Kids until their Aunts could arrive.  My wife also called my mother and my mom decided to go to Chicago too.  She drove the 80 miles from where she lives to be here in time for the early morning flight to Chicago.   Another friend took my wife and mom to the airport.

I went into surgery after Midnight.  It just so happens that two very prominent surgeons were on call that night.  I was told that I could not have scheduled better surgeons, if fact if they had not both been on call together I probably could not have scheduled them together at all.  But, everyone says how great they both are and how good it would be to get just one of them.

There were a couple of complications with my surgery, but they were overcome.  The Doctor in charge of the cardiac unit at Hinsdale came out and met my wife in the morning afterwards and explained to her how great the team I had was, how well they all worked together.  He said it was like watching a pit crew at the Indy 500, fast, efficient, and, beautiful.

They explained I was still not out of the woods; the next 24 – 48 hours would be critical.  I had all new donor blood; my kidneys had taken a hit and would need to restart.

But at least I had survived surgery and it had gone about as well as it possibly could have.  I now had a new Aorta and mechanical heart valve.

The Cardiac Program at Hinsdale has an excellent reputation.  I could not have been in better hands.  I was admitted Tuesday night (9/11) and was discharged to a local hotel in time for Monday Night Football.  I returned to Texas the following Saturday and have been seeing doctors and recovering since.

Aaron Roberts

Jill Libert-30

Personal Stories: Jill Libert

I thought I was alone until I found this web site. I knew there were people out there but to finally feel connected to people experiencing my every day life is refreshing!!! I will start by sharing my story.

I was 28 weeks (6 months) pregnant with my third child and doing well until I started having high blood pressure. I just turned 30 and otherwise healthy my Doctors couldn’t figure out why I was experiencing high blood pressure. So to be on the safe side they checked me in to the Neonatal Hospital in town and believed they would keep me on bed rest until July close to my due date. As a mother of two that was hard to deal with in itself not knowing what was to come.

After about a week laying low in the hospital I sat up one afternoon to feel a pop in my chest. After that there was pain worse then child birth!! After several hours of different tests on me and the Baby a CT was ordered. I soon learned that I had an aortic aneurysm that had ruptured. My family was told they had to deliver the 12 week early baby and perform a hystectomy(to avoid bleeding out) and then the open heart surgery to try to save my life.

My poor husband!!! I in my heavily medicated state was more upset about t the hysterectomy then losing my life! I was only 30 and wanted 5 kids. I remember asking and praying for them to please save my baby and they did just that!!! We both survived and I believe he is what pulled me through. He was born 2lbs 7oz. and spent a little over 2 months in the NICU. I only missed 2 days of that. Even in the ICU they wheeled me to see him I don’t remember it but I have pictures to prove it!!!

It has been a year and a half and I am doing great. I was left with dissections that run from my carotid arteries, my right subclavaien and down through my renal ateries. I am controlled through lots of medication and constant scans. I am to have low stress and limited lifting. I have been advised on the signs and symptoms of stroke due to my dissections in the carotid arteries. I know how important every day is now and try not to take for granted anything. I don’t know how long I have but I have been given an extra year filled with amazing days watching my children en grow.

I have an 8 year old son, Seamus, a 5 year old daughter Fionn and my miracle 1 year old Nevan. They give me the drive to push through each day and survive!!! Just finding this site gives me great inner joy We are survivors for a reason!!

On the day when you least expect it you will be blessed by the guidance of an angel and touched by God’s love.

Contact Jill

Doug Bakshis-32

Personal Stories: Doug Bakshis

It was Mother’s Day, May 15th, at about 9:30 p.m. I was talking on the phone with my mom when I experienced a sudden sharp pain that felt like someone had stabbed me through the roof of my mouth and my jaw locked up. The pain actually brought me to my knees and I had to abruptly end the phone call with my mother. I hoped that it was just some sort of weird spasm and would pass momentarily. After a few minutes, I realized that this pain was not going away and was not likely to pass in the next few minutes.

Immediately, I started running the possibilities through my mind. Stroke? Heart attack? I didn’t really know. Several years back my mother had a minor stroke due to a spike in her blood pressure. For good measure, I decided to check mine. It was elevated, but not alarmingly so and for being in some distress it was not a surprise it was elevated. I also checked my blood sugar, thinking I was having some sort of weird diabetic reaction. It was reassuringly normal 96.

I remembered that in the previous month’s issue of Men’s Health magazine there was an article with a flow chart of heart attack symptoms. I thought I should check it out. I never did find the article for two reasons. One, the words on the page made very little sense to me and two the faces of the people in the magazine were distorted. Every single person in the magazine had a face that was warped and unrecognizable to me. I knew that something was wrong far beyond the ordinary.

At the time, I was going through a divorce and my ex-wife and I still lived in the same house. She took me to the emergency room at Edward hospital in Naperville, Illinois. As I sat at the admissions desk, the only thing I truly remember now is having great difficulty signing my name. After that point in time, everything that occurred for several hours, is either a blur or has been relayed to me. It seems, I repeatedly told the nurses that my hands were cold and numb. Apparently, the next several hours involved a lot of vomiting. I guess I should feel fortunate that I don’t remember most of that.

Several hours later, I do remember coming out of a stupor and remember throwing up the last few times just as I had been given a potassium pill because my potassium levels were low. The doctors had not yet come up with a diagnosis for me. Several tests, including a stress test were planned for later. As I began to feel better, I started to feel really stupid for overreacting and wasting a whole lot of money on medical bills.

At some point in time, The cardiologist, Dr. Chris Geannopoulos, visited me and had great difficulty detecting a pulse in my right arm. He ordered a CT scan. I had the scan and went back to my room to wait. The stress test was still scheduled.

After a while, the cardiologist came back into the room, walked over to the television and turned it off. I knew that was not a good sign. He informed me that I had a dissected aorta and needed immediate surgery. I didn’t panic, but that is the most scared I have ever been in my life. Not only had I never had surgery before, but I was facing surgery that was necessary to save my life. My only two references for aortic dissections were the actor John Ritter and the writer of Rent, Jonathan Larson. Unfortunately, both had died from an aortic dissection. I was terrified, wondering if these were going to be my last conscious moments. I didn’t have any playback of my life or regrets over things I hadn’t done. My biggest concerns were that I wasn’t going to get a chance to talk to my children before surgery and tell them how much I loved them, just in case, and that not making it through the surgery was just not an acceptable option. It was not going to happen if I had anything to say y about it.

From the point of being told I had to have surgery on is a bit blurry. In the rush, chaos, and madness of being prepped for surgery I don’t really remember too much. In part I think it is due to medications kicking in and the non-stop barrage of questions and explanations coming from the medical staff. I half think that they do that so that you don’t really have time to think about what is happening to you. Most of my energy was focused on trying to remain calm and not freak out. I don’t know how many times a nurse asked, “How are you doing?” or “How are you feeling?” The answer was always the same, “Scared S@&^*@#s!”

To a large degree the whole process of getting ready for surgery is not as bad as I anticipated. Your don’t really have time to think, there is so much activity happening, and medications make the whole thing a blur. Thankfully, I only remember bits and pieces of the process. I wonder if our conscious mind has a way of editing those things that are too traumatic out so that we don’t have to remember them, much in the way someone in a disaster or car wreck doesn’t remember anything. Much like sleep, you aren’t even aware of that moments you slip into unconscious. If the process of death is anything like going to surgery, then it isn’t as scary as I thought, not that I am in any hurry to try it.

So, while I was in surgery with a machine doing my breathing and circulating my blood for me, my family spent several intense hours in the waiting room. I can’t imagine what it was like for them and to be totally truthful, I don’t really want to know. I have enough of my own stuff with which to deal. I can’t handle any more.

At some point, after the surgery They let me regain consciousness for a little bit. I couldn’t speak because I was intubated, but I had to communicate to everyone that I was fine. I was surprised that I was coherent enough to think that I needed to do more than some generic thumbs up hand gesture. I had to do something more specific to me, to truly let them know that I was fine. Quickly, I formed the palm out, split finger gesture made famous by Mr. Spock. Live long and prosper.

The rest of my recovery went pretty smoothly. I made steady progress without any setbacks. About the worst thing to report was a series of very disturbing dreams jolting me out of sleep and being drenched in sweat. The best day part was the day that I was finally allowed to take a shower. Getting sponged off or using one of those shampoo caps is fine as a stopgap measure, but there is nothing compared to the feeling of hot water and soap cascading down your body. The only thing that I was concerned about with the shower was that the force of water hitting the foot long incision down the center of my chest would cause some pain. It did not. On Saturday, I was released from the hospital and spent the next month recuperating at home before returning to work.

r the most part, life is back to normal. There are still days where I experience some pain or fatigue. There are days where I have fears and worries that the surgery failed or that another section of my aorta will tear. I hate those days.

I haven’t quite decided how to view one aspect of the surgery of which I am reminded ever single day. Everyday when I get into the shower or get dressed, I have a visual reminder of that surgery, the scar. Fortunately, the surgeon did a great job and I don’t have a jagged keloided zig zag running down my chest. It is just a smooth gently curving line. I just wish that it would fade already and not be so visible to me. I am not sure whether it is a reminder of the ordeal I went through and that in this case I was “someone else” (you know, the bad things always happen to “someone else”) or if it is a reminder that despite something really bad happening, I am still around. I wonder how I will feel next summer. I have never been very comfortable baring my chest and now that I have a scar on top of it, I don’t know how self-conscious I am going to feel the next time I go swimming.

Contact Doug

Dan Swim-32

Personal Stories: Dan Swim

I had an aortic dissection at 32 years of age. It was repaired after I rushed myself to emergency in Hamilton, Ont. Canada.

Ten years later, after some routine tests, it was discovered that i had a pseudo aneurysm above the previous surgery.

My whole aortic arch was replaced as well as the Bentall aortic valve replacement were performed on Jan. 17 2006.

So far , so good. Back to work with no complications, knock on wood. Would like to talk to other survivors.

Email me at

See yah!

Timothy Tate-37

Personal Stories: Timothy Tate

Let me start by saying thank you Brian for your website. It has given me accurate information and hope at a time when I truly needed it. Now my story… I had worked all morning and come home to do some yard work on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was around 95 degrees, but overall a nice August day. I relaxed and cooled down for about 30 minutes before going to the computer to pay some bills on-line. I started having moderate chest pain, but assumed I had simply overdone it in the yard.

The chest pain continued for about 5 minutes before it became very intense. Then, all of the sudden, it stopped. A few seconds later, I began to feel a warm sensation in my abdomen that radiated into my legs. Within a couple of minutes, my legs began to tingle, as if they were going numb. I quickly realized something was wrong, so I got up, changed clothes and put the dogs away. I grabbed my wallet and my keys and drove myself to the hospital. When I arrived about 7 minutes later, it was all I could do to walk into the Emergency room. I mentioned chest pain and the ER staffed leaped into action. That was about 6:30pm.

Within minutes, I was in a hospital gown with IV’s in both arms. I would sweat profusely, then I would get a chill. That process repeated itself several times. Initially, the doctors believed I had a blood clot around my pelvis, blocking blood to my right leg, which I could neither feel nor move. A Doppler was done, which yielded no blood clot. Luckily, a doctor walked in during the Doppler and said “Look at the aorta as well”. All I remember was the technician saying “This doesn’t look right”. Within a few minutes, I was whisked off for a CT with contrast. Back in my Evaluation room, things were really starting to move.

Doctors were running in and out and stopping to conference in the hallway outside my door. Finally, Dr Michael Watts, a cardiovascular surgeon, informed me that I had had a very serious aortic dissection and that I soon would be taken into emergency open heart surgery. I told my friends that were waiting with me that I loved them. At about 10:30pm I was wheeled down to the operating room. I had been having intense lower right back pain since I arrived, but that was the only indication, other than the paralysis of my right leg, that anything was wrong.

My surgery lasted until about 4:00am. I awoke in open heart recovery about 8:00am to find I could move and feel my right leg again. I was incubated, sedated, and had been cut open from stem to stern, but I was alive, and nothing could have been better. I was released the following Friday to go home and have made steady progress since. My father passed away at the age of 38, from a heart attack. Looking back, I wonder if an aortic dissection triggered his MI. Anyway, I hope my story offers something to the visitors of your website. I firmly believe, even without Marfen’s or a similar disorder, aortic dissection is a family disorder, if not genetic. My cardiologist said that my life expectancy may not have been effected at all by my condition, unless complications arise later on. Thanks again for all the useful information on your site, and good luck to all my fellow aortic dissection survivors.

Contact Tim


Personal Stories: Dolores

On October 4th 2005, my wife Dolores was attending her mothers funeral. She developed intense pain and shortness of breath. Approximately 4 hours after getting to the E.R. they figured out what the problem was.

Immediately the transferred her to another hospital and right into surgery. After 21 days in CCU2 at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis In. and another 7 days in rehab i brought her home Nov 2nd.The doctors all have told her how lucky she is to be alive.

She dissected both ascending and descending through the aortic arch all the way through her abdomen. She has a 5″ graph and 9″scar. We have been so blessed with all the support from family and friends. We live neat Joplin Mo. so without all of the support from so many people I don’t know where we would be now.

I have been off of work now over a month sitting and watching over her and somehow everything has been taken care of. A big thanks to everyone at home who have done fund raisers and that kind of thing to help out financially.

There is absolutely no way to ever express our thanks and love.


Scott and Dolores

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