Category: Thirties


Personal Stories: Robert Turowski

I woke up the night after my 39th birthday with an intense burning in my chest. It felt like I had a burning pocket of gas stuckin my chest, I thought it was heartburn even though I never had heartburn before. I ran around the house trying to get rid of the sensation. My wife told me the go to the hospital bit I refused. The pain eased up about a while and I fell asleep.

In the morning I called off sick because I was tired. I still felt a small burning sensation but nothing like the night before, so I must be OK. As the day went on I noticed that is seemed like my leg was dragging slightly and one of my eyes was fluttering. I finally called my doctor and got the last appointment of the day. the doctor said that he hear a slight whooshing when he listened to my heart and would not let me leave the office unless I went to an ER, he wanted to call an ambulance but I refused. He finally let me go but only after my wife came and picked me up and drove me to the hospital.

At the Er all tests were great. Pulse was good, EKG was good. The ER doctor said it was probable acid reflux and they would keep me the night and release me in the morning after a TREADMILL test. He then called the cardiologist that my doctor had called about me. The cardiologist said that I should have a CT scan but the ER doctor said that me was not impressed with my symptoms. I finally did have a CT scan and the say the dissection. The heart surgeon was called and I had the surgery, started bleeding in post op and had the surgery again to stop the bleeding.

I recovered well but always felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It dropped the following year due a follow up examine. It seemed pseudo aneurysm has developed and was pulling my heart valve apart so the valve was not closing. My first surgeon said he was not comfortable doing the surgery so he referred me to DR Svensson at the Cleveland Clinic. It had the second surgery on 12/13/04 and have been recovering fairly well. I had the first surgery totally redone and an artificial hear valve out it.

It is had the put the doom aside as I was put on an anti-depressant, but it is still rough some days.

My original surgeon did not feel that I should risk the surgery with anyone except Dr. Svensson since it was so complex. The Cleveland Clinic is outside my HMO network. I sided with Dr. Marsh my first heart surgeon because me was already inside and knew what was there best. My insurance has only paid for 70% because I went out of the network. Now I am not only depressed about possible further problems but I have a staggering debt.

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Harold Garwood-59, 47, 43 & 36

Personal Stories: Harold Garwood’s Family Brian,   I’ve been browsing for info about subject and thought I’d see if you had ever heard of the kind of incidence in my family.   In Feb 1984, my mother was stricken very suddenly while attending her mother’s funeral.  Grannie was 100 years old.  Mom was 59.  There was no autopsy done, but a few years ago, I wrote to the hospital where she died and the symptoms noted on the one page medical report were much the same as others who have died.   In Nov 1988, my 36 year-old sister, 7 months pregnant, had flu-like symptoms.  She went to doctor who detected low bp.  He sent her to hospital for observation.  She walked in around 5:00 pm and was dead by 7:30.  Baby was also lost. Autopsy reported ruptured aortic aneurysm.    In Aug 1990, my 43 year-old sister started feeling bad around lunchtime at her job at Vanderbilt Univ library.  She died before ems arrived.  Autopsy reported ruptured aortic aneurysm.   In Feb 2001, my 47 year old sister, a medical transcriptionist, began having pain in her chest and back.  She logged off from her at-home workstation and emailed her supervisor that she thought she had an aortic aneurysm.  She called ems and was taken to a rural area hospital in Shelbyville, TN.  They had asked for a helicopter from Vanderbilt Hospital which arrived while she was in the MRI machine.

The immediately put her on the chopper and flew her to the hospital.  She endured 8 hours of surgery to implant dacron graft and remove a golf ball sized tumor from her heart.  She is nearly fully recovered and enjoys her horses on her small farm in Shelbyville. Dr. recently told her she has some kidney damage, but nothing very serious.

In Jan 2005, my 29 year-old daughter delivered our first grandchild, a beautiful little girl, by C-section.  She was released after 4 days recovery and spent one day at home.  On that evening, she had a pain in her back and chest while eating supper, but said it passed.

A couple of hours later, her husband took her back to the hospital where she had delivered.  He reminded them of the family history, and an MRI was done.  They diagnosed a Stanford type B aortic dissection.  Blood had began to enter the medial tissue.  They said this type of leakage could be treated by controlling her bp and that if it didn’t heal itself, they would consider surgery in a couple of months.

She was kept in icu and was being monitored when she coded.  CPR was performed and she was revived, but she coded again in ambulance to heart hospital next door to maternity hospital.  They tried heroic measures but failed.

We lost hope very early when dr said he had done cpr for 45 minutes.   We have one other daughter, age 25, and there are 4 other young nieces and 2 nephews.  My 2 brothers and I are 60, 46 and 43, and have undergone numerous screenings, all with good results.  Seems to be a girl thing. One sister, age 56, has not been affected.     If you have anything to share on this, please reply.   Thanks, Harold Garwood This is certainly quite a sad story. I presume the family has been evaluated for the known causes of familial aortic dissection – Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type IV… If not the this should be done at once. I would also consider seeking evaluation at a center with strong experience with familial aortic dissection. Dr. Diana MIlewicz at University of Texas at Houston would be my recommendation.   David

Debbie Bruce-39

Personal Stories: Debbie Bruce

Hi, my name is Debbie and I am an aortic dissection survivor.

Where does my story begin? I met the man of my dreams (Bill) and got married for the very first time on May 6, 2000. I was 38 years old. We knew that we wanted to have children, and with my age, we thought we had better start trying as soon as possible. Well, we got pregnant after two months of trying. We couldn’t believe it! I could not have been any happier. I was diagnosed before my pregnancy with high blood pressure so I was taking Aldomet for that but everything else was moving along great. We found out that our baby was a little girl and we even had her name picked out “Amber Lee Bruce”.

It was Saturday, May 26, 2001, Memorial Day weekend, a weekend that will always hold many memories for my family and for me. My husband had been asked by a buddy to go fishing that early morning. They started out and it was raining so hard they postponed it until later in the morning. After all, I was only 33 weeks pregnant. If Bill was going fishing, now was the time to go. On that afternoon I noticed I was very out of breath, but I thought the baby had moved into my ribs or something.

I remember my sister asking me if I was okay. Of course I was, just a little sleepy and out of breath. Around 3:30 PM, I called my mother to see how they were and she said she had the grandkids there and I decided to go over for a visit. The whole time thinking maybe I’ll get a free dinner out of this visit. I left my house noticed the van needed gas but decided to go to my parents first and get gas on the way back home. When I got to my parents’, I headed straight for the bathroom. When I returned to the kitchen, Mom had fixed my a glass of lemonade for me. I took one swallow and thought, “Wow, that one got me in my chest”. I felt like I had instant indigestion. So I took another swallow, and wham! My jaw line was on fire. I could not open my mouth. I made to the couch and passed out. She called the rescue squad and they took me to the nearest hospital.

When I arrived there, the doctor wasn’t sure what was going on with my heart but he felt sure my baby would have to be delivered soon. They rushed me to another hospital over an hour away. When I left the first hospital, I still had not spoken to my husband. We made it to the second hospital in less than an hour. My neighbor had been contacted and told to be on the lookout for Bill and when he arrived home, he found out that I was been sent to Richmond. I believe he was there when I arrived. I can’t remember everything too well. I was diagnosed with an ascending aortic dissection. An operation had to be done now. My baby would be delivered first and then they would operate on my aorta.

The doctors were not sure if I would survive or my baby or either of us. I can only imagine what Bill was feeling and the rest of my family. I felt completely calm while waiting to go into the operating room. My sister commenting that everyone was a mess, except for me. Of course, she told me this later. Someone said that the angels were hold me during this time. To be so close to dying, I really didn’t feel that much pain.

Boy, I felt the pain afterwards. As I sat in the SICU, I wondered about my baby. I could no longer feel her movements. My husband assured me she was fine and beautiful but I wondered if he just telling me that. He brought pictures and even bought a camcorder to show me. She was five days old before I got to see her and hold her. I asked my OB doctor if I could have more children and his response was, “Debbie, if you have any more children both Dr. Reynolds and I will have a heart attack”.

So I can’t have any more but I’m so very glad I have her. She is beautiful, smart, healthy and has so much energy. Much more than I can keep up with. I have often said I don’t know if she is aging me or making me younger. Younger, I believe. My husband and I have gone through so much in our first few years together. I really had a rough time adjusting not only to a baby but a preemie and trying to heal myself. My husband was there for me the whole time. Helping out all the time. As Amber got older and I was better, he no longer could handle the poopy diapers. But you know what? He did so much for me that didn’t bother me at all. He was and is wonderful. I am so thankful for my little family! Memorial Day weekend has a different meaning for our family because it holds memories for us that changed our lives forever.

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Ben Bynes-31

Personal Stories: Ben Bynes

Brian, I have an aortic dissection success story to share with you. It is my experience so far. I wish someone had a story like mine to share when I was trying to land on my feet but not quite sure where I was landing. Like many of the stories, I was depressed, scared, and angry at the reality of what my 31 yr. old self was dealing with. Since waking up to my bad dream come true, I have been trying (and succeeding) to get back much of the life that I had before.

In April, 2001, I was at work. We had a busy morning of taking all the equipment and hose off of our fire engine to send it out of town for service, Next , we did a wet drill with a neighboring department. On our way back to the station we came across green paint going down the storm drain, and dealt with cleaning up the mess. We had just cleared from that detail when We got paged out for a bicyclist unconscious and bleeding from the head. I was a brand new paramedic, and also two weeks out from my final driving test on the aerial ladder. Basically I was driving and taking the lead medical role on the call. I was happy to see the ambulance medics show up.

We loaded the patient into the ambulance where I was taking his blood pressure when suddenly I felt bad pain in my guts and back. It was bad, but I didn’t want to steal our patient’s thunder so I said to the ambulance medics,” I’m not feeling so good myself fella’s” They chuckled and said I could go with them to the hospital. I declined, but upon exiting the ambulance I told my captain that I was in pain and didn’t think I could drive. He said I looked pale and I said maybe we should just drive to the E.R. They drove me back downtown and called dispatch for an ambulance.

The same ambulance came back after taking our patient. I waited in the E.R. in a small room in the waiting room. I was downplaying my symptoms, but it was getting unbearable. Finally, as I lay there writhing in pain I grabbed the E.M.T. and told him that they had to do something for my pain, that I was dying and felt like I was having an aortic aneurism. He passed word along and I got moved to a real hospital bed in the E.R. I may not have all the facts and timing right, but I believe that the Physicians Assistant , and E.M.T. were very instrumental in my getting treated for more than back pain. The P.A. was unable to detect a palpable pedal pulse in my left foot.

I downplayed again saying I had a hard time finding pedal pulses too. These guys were starting to get serious and ordered up a C.T. scan. I finally called my wife, as I wanted to wait until I knew what was happening before worrying her because she was nine months pregnant. I told her to come to the E.R. and that I didn’t know what was wrong, maybe I hurt my back lifting the patient, or maybe I had real bad gastric cramps. I was only 31, and couldn’t be in serious trouble….. right? …….. WRONG!!!!!.. After the C.T. I was told by the doctor that I had “Torn ” my aorta and needed emergency surgery. “Open Heart Surgery????” I asked in disbelief. Yes he said.

Things really took off from there. The helicopter flight crew was standing by, and family members gathered around me with tears in their eyes. Thank god for morphine, because I was feeling cheerful enough to comfort them and tell them that I wasn’t going to die. I truly felt it and meant it. The doctor said that Stanford couldn’t take me because their teams were in the middle of surgery at the time, bur that our small hospital did have a surgeon on duty who had done the surgery…once! Not on me he doesn’t………… no offense Doctor, but you have had me here for two and a half hours and I’m not dead yet, PLEASE find me somewhere else to go, What about UCSF or a teaching hospital somewhere, anywhere!! He went back to the phone and tried UCSF. While he did that I turned to the flight nurses and said, “If you two fu#!ers leave here without me, and I live, I promise I will find you! Don’t leave me!” I guess my captain threatened them as well saying they would have a hard time lifting off without me with a fire engine chained to their helicopter.

Anyhow, UCSF was able to accept me and I gave my wife what might have been my last kiss goodbye and told her I would see her in S.F. and that I wasn’t going to die. The flight nurses doped me up and All I remember was thinking that I had been born at UCSF 31 years ago, was I doing like a salmon and swimming back up to where I was born to die? was I going to be one of the lucky salmon to live to do it again…?

I woke up momentarily as they transferred me to a ground ambulance at SFO to taxi me to UCSF because they don’t have a helipad. The next thing I remember was people telling me not to struggle and to be careful of my incision. INCISION!!?? WHAT INCISION???….. OOOH! that incision, It was coming back to me in a horrible foggy memory, and now I was on the other side of surgery. One of my step sisters had a tale to tell that I don’t remember about the extabation process when they took me off the breathing machine. I guess they had to put me under three times because I was struggling to breathe and looking at my sister mouthing the words “Im choking” she said it was traumatizing for her and wanted to make sure I didn’t have any hard feelings. I told her a few days later that I didn’t remember any of it. My throat was sore for months though.

My surgery replaced a 30mm section of my aortic arch with the Dacron tubing, my valve was spared, and re suspended, Bio-glue was applied to the flaps where need be, and a Teflon tube was inserted across the top of my groin as a femoral artery bypass from right to left femoral arteries to restore proper blood flow to my left foot. I had dissected my aorta from the arch all the way into my iliac and renal arteries.

I guess all the stress got to my wife, but I also feel like my unborn daughter met me as I was teetering between this world and whatever world I may have been headed for and decided to be born to show me the way back home. My surgery was finished the morning of the 8th and my daughter was born the 9th, upstairs in the same hospital, my wife had a little surgery of her own, a C-section. I have a picture of me with staples, tubes, and a newborn baby on my chest. It looks like I had the c-section. That child is now 3-1/2 years old.

I am back at work full time full duty, and my CUT. scan two weeks ago shows no changes. I control my blood pressure and each day that I live becomes another reassurance of my vitality although in reality I’m one day closer to my inevitable mortality. A strange paradox. I have played in basketball games against the 49ers, caught tuna fish on my boat, and surfed in California and a contest in Hawaii. I’m thankful for the ability to be alive and to be able to share with my children and try to stop and smell the roses as much as I can. I share this as a story of success hopefully to inspire and give hope, in this cruel world of life and death. A senior competitor in Hawaii shared this with me when I said I had been lucky……..He said “You’ve been more than lucky….You’ve been blessed….. now all you have to do is be a blessing.”

These words were powerful and I still struggle with what I’m supposed to do now. What was I put on this planet to do? I’m not sure I can live up to the expectation, but perhaps this story will serve as a small blessing to someone in need of hope. I have felt the pain of being knocked to my knees when moments before I had been standing tall. I know how scary it is to not know how long I’ll be alive to see my family grow up. I realize now that the rules have not changed, I could die any time and that has always been the case. I guess I’m just a bit more aware of the same rules that I have been playing by since I took my first breath 35 years ago. Here’s to the next 35!!!

Karl Bjorklund-35

Personal Stories: Karl Bjorklund

Our son had no prior warning of an aortic dissection or any heart problems, except that he has had hypertension since the age of 12. It has been under control with medication. He was very tall (6’7″). No doctor he had ever seen had considered Marfan’s, though he was very thin with long fingers and very double jointed. We had never heard of Marfan’s.

At age 35, just two months ago, on July 18, 2004, he died of an aortic dissection. He had gone to the emergency room complaining of a severe headache (radiating to the neck) on Saturday, the 17th. They did a CAT scan of his head, never associating it with his heart or aorta, because the pain was in his head. They found nothing, so they sent him home with pain killers for the headache.

On Sunday, July 18, the pain in his head worsened, and spread to his shoulders. He went into the emergency room again. His blood pressure both days was normal, but on Sunday the pain finally started to move downward toward his chest. As they were preparing him to do an x-ray of his chest, he was in mid-sentence and collapsed. They could not revive him and determined later that he had died of an aortic dissection.

As the parents (he was not married) we signed for the autopsy. The coroner said it was likely from his appearance that he had Marfan’s. Also, his hypertension contributed to a slightly enlarged heart.

We spoke to the emergency room physicians, both the Saturday and Sunday ones. They were very compassionate, but we told them that our only concern was that the next time a very tall person with hypertension and a headache came into the emergency room, an x-ray of the chest might be appropriate.

We also spoke to his family physician, the doctor who regularly checked him for his hypertension. We requested records from him, but are still waiting after two months; they must go through the lawyer of the clinic to which the doctor belongs. The hospital gave us their records immediately.

Also, four years ago he went to another hospital for chest pains. They took an x-ray, told him it was a pulled muscle, and sent him home with pain pills. They are giving us trouble about releasing the records.

We are about to consult an attorney, not because we have any intentions of lawsuits, but just because we are educators and want to know exactly what really happened. We do not want to bury our heads in the sand.

We owe it to our son. We owe it to all of the sons and daughters who might be saved.

How would it be best to spread the news to emergency room physicians that severe headache can be a symptom of a cardiac event? Kathy in Spokane

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Tina Smith-37

Personal Stories: Tina Smith

Hi everyone. My name is Tina Smith and I’m 38 now. I had never heard of this before and when it happened to John Ritter I thought what a loss of a funny man. That’s it. I had been sick a lot with pneumonia.

On two different occasions I went to the emergency room and was sent home after xrays and CT scans with pneumonia as the diagnosis. I was finally asked to see an Internal Medicine doctor to discover the cause of my pneumonia. She diagnosed me with a heart murmur and suggested that I see a Cardiologist for treatment.

The cardiologist told me that I had a bad valve and would in the distant future have to have it replaced. I went in a week later to have a echocardiogram and a ultrasound of my neck. The ultrasound showed that I had both carotid arteries dissected and the echo came back with the aortic dissection. Immediately I was checked into the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at St Francis Hospital in Blue Island Illinois.

There I learned the severity of my situation and the mortality rate. On December 11, 2003 in an 11 hour operation I had my aortic semilunar valve replaced and my aortic arch replaced (or ascending aorta) and my carotid arteries were bypassed.

I don’t remember waking up after the procedure. I can’t remember anything for 4 days. Basically I lost 4 days, but it’s a small price to pay for my life. I’m grateful to be here everyday. The road to recovery was long, hard, and painful but it’s worth it. I will be celebrating 1 year of re-life this December 11th. I’m scared everyday about the unknown.

The cause, could it happen again, will it affect my children. I was a normal healthy mother of two before all this. Just couldn’t shake a bad cold. Today my ticker is crisp (according to my doctor) but my carotid arteries haven’t healed like they should. So now we are talking about stints in my carotids. I don’t know how I feel about that right now. I’m just trying to understand the problems I have occasionally with my vision.

Currently trying to see a specialist in neurology and ophthalmology to rule out them as possible causes for my vision problems. I haven’t wanted to find out anything about my condition because I was too afraid. I haven’t as of yet let myself cry or grieve about it.

My support team throughout all of this has been amazing and without them I don’t know if I would of made such a quick recovery. This all happened to me during finals week at school. I missed finals but went home 7 days before Christmas. Returning to school was my goal and on January 14th I was cleared to begin classes again. Today I’m taking Phlebotomy and I have to write a research paper and thought that this would be a good start to my emotional recovery.

I’m glad I came across this site and hope that everyone whose posted before me is doing well. Although I have to be honest I hate seeing people I haven’t seen in awhile and them asking, Are you okay? How are you feeling? I just want to be normal again.

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Daryl O’ Shea-35

Personal Stories: Daryl O’Shea

Found your website while trying to research more about aortic dissection.  my 35-year-old brother-in-law currently lies in a drug-induced coma, hopefully recovering from surgery to repair an ascending aneurysm.  this is a man who an hour before his surgery was speaking to us with no indication that his condition was deadly.  although we, his family, knew how serious this was, none of us knew exactly how serious until the surgeon informed us after the surgery that he was “a sneeze away” from death, and that he’d never seen such a fatal injury in his 30 years as a surgeon.

i guess my question to you is, other than taking his recovery slowly and having to gain back strength, what is he facing long-term?  nobody’s gone that far ahead to tell us what to expect.  he’s an extremely active father of a 7-year-old son, who works as a framer for my husband’s construction company. we’ve read one story of one man’s journey through recovery, but I’m hoping that my brother-in-law’s youth could possibly be on his side.   thanks for any info./advice you can provide he’s in Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, NY.  we’ve just heard from his sister, who’s there now, that his blood ox. sat. level just dropped to 84 from 94 and the surgeon—a Dr. Bell-Thomson, has prescribed prednisone.  he’s been running a temp. all day, but everything looked great when we were there just 2 hours ago.  his sister’s panicking because the nurse seems to be being rather evasive about what’s causing all this and what it all means.  waiting on a call from my sister in N. Carolina, who’s friends with a Cardiac ICU nurse at Mission Mem. Hosp. in Asheville.

i kind of thought he’d have to find something less strenuous to do.  was hoping his age and relative good health otherwise would be a factor in his favor. thanks for getting back to me.   his name was Daryl  O’Shea.  we lost him yesterday.  they finally got him off the ventilator yesterday morning, moved him to ICU from the CardioThoracic Unit.  sometime early yesterday afternoon, he went into cardiac arrest and they couldn’t get him back.

thank you for your website.  and thank you for your time and interest. he did have the surgery, on Wed. the 25th.  and the prognosis was that it was successful, then his recovery was up to him.  we needed him to get off the vent.  they spent days trying to figure out why his lungs couldn’t pick up where they should.  finally changed the medication they were using to stabilize his blood pressure and thought they’d found the key—seems this medication (don’t know what it was) sometimes reacts that way, though rare.

they then decided that Tues. the 31st was time to pull the vent….and they were successful. he was on just a mask and seemed to be doing well.  his mother, father and brother (my husband) had seen him open his eyes for the first time in a week, and he seemed to be aware to a point, though they still had him heavily drugged for pain.  some time after his parents and my husband left him at 2:30, and some time before i got to ECMC to see him at 4:00, he arrested.

they gave permission for the surgeon to examine him, not only for the cause of his cardiac arrest, but also to try to find out if it was a connective tissue disease that caused the dissection to begin with….if so, my husband, my children, my sister-in-law, and his 7-year-old son will all need to be tested, as it’s a genetic disease. his family is amazing……his mother’s faith, incredible.  their circle of friends, family and church family are truly incredible. we’re sure he’s safe and happy and at peace—and most importantly, with the Lord. thank you for listening…..and thank you for your kind thoughts.

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Fred Kania’s son-31

Personal Stories: Fred Kania’s Son

Hello Brian, I was somewhat relieved today when I talked with you about what happened to my son on July 17th. At about 11.30 am my son Fred warmed up some pizza in the microwave and sat at his desk, seconds later he complained of a jaw pain moving to the back of his neck, At first I thought he might have bitten his tongue or cheek.

He walked around for about 1 minute and asked me to call 911 which I did immediately. In the meantime he went outside to sit on the porch and wait for the ems. He was acting ok, he even took off his bracelet and handed it to me in case he needed an iv I believe. When the ems arrive about 8 minutes after I called, by the way I stated his symptoms to the ems operator which were jaw pain, numbness in right leg etc. Anyway a male ems worker walked up to the porch and asked my son what was wrong.

My son told him the same symptoms I mentioned on the phone. He then asked my son if he could walk to their vehicle. My son said yes he could and proceeded to stand and walk to their vehicle about 50 feet away. I found out later on that he died about a minute later in the ems vehicle. As we discussed earlier, I had talked to about 6 ems workers who all stated that asking him to walk with his symptoms was totally uncalled for.

They tried to revive him for about 20 minutes then told me that they were helping him breathe. We followed their vehicle to the hospital about 1 mile away and arrived at the emergency room at Garden City Mi. I signed a few papers and heard code blue on the pa system, they called our family name and my daughter and I went down a corridor and was approached by an orderly who asked if my son was allergic to any medications.

I told him no and he asked us to wait in this small room, about 20 seconds later 2 Dr’s arrived closed the door and told me that my son had passed away. The autopsy report states pericardial tamponade and aortic dissection and cause of death. I would appreciate any input you can give me and will send copies of anything you may need. Again Brian, thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

Fred Kania


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!)

Chris Bedlam-32

Personal Stories: Chris Bedlam

I wanted to share my brother’s story. I am filled with happiness when I read stories of survivors of aortic dissections but our story isn’t so happy.

Christopher Bedlam turned 32 on May 15, 2002. On the 19th of May, he asked my mom to take him to the Emergency Room because of chest pain. As they drove, his pain became more severe. It went into his neck and jaw, and down his left arm and into his back. My mom was certain that he was having some kind of cardiac episode.

The ER Dr. did an EKG and a chest X-Ray. He showed the X-Ray to my mom and my brother. He said that Chris had pneumonia. And that his pneumonia was so bad that there was a tear in his lung. My mom questioned this..told the DR. that Chris didn’t have a cough, indications of pneumonia…But the DR. was arrogant. Sent Chris home with an inhaler and antibiotics. The next day he rested and the pain seemed to ease a bit…And on Tuesday, the 21st, he did some normal things…work, errands…and he talked to his fiance. They were planning on being married the following Saturday so there were many plans to be made.

She told Chris that he sounded tired and maybe they should postpone things until he felt better. But of course Chris being Chris, he said “I’m fine..nothing can happen to me. We have too much left to do.” Two hours later, he called my mom at work and asked her to please call the Dr. because his chest pain was worse…almost unbearable. She said of course, that she loved him, and that she’d be there soon. She started to call the Dr. but got a funny feeling and asked her friend at work to please call Chris and tell him that she was just going to come straight to his apartment to take him back to the ER. She could not get through…the phone was busy.

My mom frantically called my older brother and they both headed over to Chris’s house…They couldn’t get an answer and had to wait a bit for the mgr. to let them in…The Mgr. ran up the stairs while my mom checked the rest of the apt…apparently, the Mgr. found Chris collapsed on the floor…not still in his hand. The paramedics were called and after almost an hour of furiously working on Chris, they told my Mom that they had called the hospital and the Dr. had pronounced him dead..There was nothing else they could do…So began our nightmare…We had no idea why he’d died, so we had to wait weeks and weeks for the autopsy report.

The final report said that Chris had died of an acute aortic dissection…We had never heard of this so, we researched it. Chris’ best friend is a lawyer so he checked into some things…

To make a long story a little less long, the DR. in the ER had misread the X-Ray. The tear he saw was Chris’ aorta, not his lung. We got a letter 6 days after Chris died from the Radiologist at the hospital saying that he needed to return immediately for a recheck. Of course it was too late.

We talked to 2 Cardiologists and both of them said that had they done surgery on Sunday, 2 days before, Chris probably would have had a 95 percent chance of survival…So, we filed a malpractice suit. Kaiser settled quickly..The lawyers saying that it was cheaper to settle a malpractice suit than to pay for his surgery and aftercare.

Chris was young and healthy…nothing that might suggest he was at risk for an aortic dissection..He had served in Desert Storm and was an amazing person…A beloved son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and friend. I pray that a DR. sees this..and takes one more look at that X-Ray that is a little unclear…Or someone else reads this and just knows that the world lost an incredible person in Chris.

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Kari Ann Wagner-31

Personal Stories: Kari Ann Wagner

I write this for my wife who had aortic dissection in Oct of 03. She was 31 years old. One even while doing dishes she could not get a good breathe of air. She sat down complaining of this and eventually worked up to a shower to try to snap out of it. Of course that did not work. We talked about what it could be and considered severe gas. We got in the car and went to the pharmacy for gas relief medication. She took it and as we headed home I decided to turn around and go to the hospital. We stopped in the parking lot with the kids and dog in car. I asked her if she wanted to go in and within a few minutes she agreed.

Of course she always considers medical expenses before her decision to get care. She had not been going to a doctor since the birth of her second son almost 6yrs prior. the boys and I are sent to a waiting room while she receiving care. The local hospital does not know what is causing this severe shortness of breathe and is treating her for a heart attack with nitro. After many rounds of this without improvement. She was given Morphine to settle her down. Probably going to die very soon unless diagnosis is found. Now her mothers old internal medicine doctor starting his shift early comes through the emergency room and recognizes her. He immediately begins to find out what is wrong.

He knows her mothers history of heart failure. She had aortic dissection at age 33. He sends her for a scan. Now within minutes she is going by helicopter to Freodert hospital in Milwaukee for emergency open heart surgery. I have to call Grandma and try not to scare her and get grampa to pick up the kids so I can drive to the hospital to be with her. Now we are all very scared. I watch as the Helicopter leaves the pad. I am very impressed by how great it is to have this incredibly fast method of transport. My wife is not really aware of what is going on. This is all happening to fast to keep up. I wait for 7hrs to meet Dr. Nicolosi to inform me that he has replaced her valve and aorta with prosthetic parts and she is being closed up. I had been asking God to comfort her and keep her warm. I knew if she felt cold it would seem like an eternity to her.

Later she told me she had felt a warming touch during surgery. I had not told her of my prayers until after she mentioned this feeling. I am so proud of everyone who helped her through this. She is doing great and had many of the same feelings that Brian had about being in the hospital and feeling how important the little things are. She is working toward normalizing her energy levels and losing weight. We have had our children checked for these heart related defects since and are working on one of her brothers to have a scan done also. The most difficult part of the recovery for her is seeing the medical bills come in.

We have insurance but it only goes so far. I wish she would not let money upset her so much. It is taking away from that initial response of being glad to be alive and well. I think one of the most important lessons to learn from this is the importance of regular doctor visits and an understanding of your family medical history. It is very likely you will have the same medical problems your relatives do. Also never justify ignoring aches and pains because they may cost to much to take care of. I thank God for my wife and the doctors for a great job keeping here with us. I love you Kari.

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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!)

Tammy Mayes-35

Personal Stories: Tammy Mayes

Hello Brian and everyone who comes in this great place. My story isn’t quite like everyone else’s. I am 35 yrs. old, married almost 16 yrs. with a 15 yr. old daughter and a 14 yr. old son. This is my story: In December 2003 right after Christmas I started feeling tired and didn’t have much energy. I thought with the holidays and my job, which was home health aide had just ended due to death, and I just thought I was under a lot of stress.

I went to see my doctor who sent me for blood work and she ran an EKG- which came back normal. The following week I went back for the blood test results and found out that I had diabetes. I was sleeping 7-9 hrs. a night and napping for 2-4 hrs. a day. I expressed to my doctor my concern and she sent me to mid Ohio heart clinic. My appointment was 3 days later (Monday).

The doctor put me on a beta blocker and aspirin that day and wanted me to come in 3 days (Thursday) later for a stress test. On Monday they had me come in for the results. I thought the urgency was because my mother had her first heart attack at age 36 which resulted in an angioplasty and then at age 48 she had a quadruple bypass, and my father having his 1st heart attack at age 40 and quadruple bypass at age 46.

On Monday the doctor told me the bottom portion of my heart was not pumping as quickly as the top and wanted me to have a cath on Wednesday. I agreed of course. But then I started to wonder why they was being so aggressive with me. Well I just brushed it off as again to my parents history.

On Wednesday while they was doing the cath., the doctor asked if I was ok, yes I said, again he asked “are you sure you’re ok?” Just as he was asking the second time I felt as though I was laying on hot coals, then my chest felt as though someone put me under a press machine. I blacked out and when I came to they was trying to put a tube in my throat.

They didn’t because I was awake thank God. The doctor explained to me that my left aorta had ruptured when he injected the dye and they had to rush me downstairs to do emergency bypass surgery. I was totally shocked. Nothing like this had ever happened in my family. They still don’t know why. They did triple bypass surgery. I was awake on Friday and they let me come home on Sunday.

I am so thankful I am here. I am dealing with a lot of issues, diabetes, high cholesterol, depression, I quit smoking and wondering why I’ve had so many health problems at a young age. Some of them I know why others I’ll never know. I just wish I knew what caused my aortic dissection, so maybe my kids can be more aware of it. But like I said I am just thankful I’m here. The healing process has been a slow one for me, I’m still very sore. I’d love to hear from anyone else who has had a similar experience.

Thanks for letting me tell my story. And much more thanks for developing this website.

Tammy Mays

Mansfield, Ohio

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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!)

Ricky Flanders-34

Personal Stories: Ricky Flanders

Hello Brian,

My name is Rick Flanders, am 34 yrs old, of Asian heritage and I live in the San Francisco bay area. I stumbled upon your website and found it helpful. I was recently diagnosed by a cardiologist after an echocardiogram that my aortic root (ascending aorta) is severely dilated at 6.2 cm. I just had an MRA a couple of days ago and am awaiting the results. At this stage, I’m trying to figure out why I would have this condition as I am not marfanoid.

My primary care doctor was concerned that I may have Ehlers Danlos since I am double jointed in my fingers and elbows. But I don’t have many of the characteristics of Ehlers Danlos (especially type IV), which are traslucent skin, big eyes, no ear lobes, and easily bruised. With Ehlers Danlos, of course, the risk of surgery is much much greater.

I am curious, did any doctor figure out what the cause of your condition was? Also, what were your symptoms before you actually had to go to the ER and had your ascending aorta grafted? Needless to say, I am very scared and anxious about all this.



Update: 9/21/2004:

Dear Brian,

It’s been a long time since I last contacted you, and so much has happened. Anyways, I’ve been meaning to contact you for a while now, but this is the first time in a couple of months I’ve been able to get around to getting back in touch with you.

Well, thanks very much to you and your website (btw, I see that you’ve added so much to your website since I first stumbled across it – that’s awesome!), David Liang, Sunny, Julie and Dr. Miller have been taking good care of me. Due to my HMO problem, David saw me gratis for the first visit in May and did an echocardiogram on me.

He and Sunny saw me after hours in their clinic and stayed with me for almost 3 hours after, analyzing me, informing me and answering all my questions. What a dedicated doctor and staff! The echo unfortunately confirmed that my ascending aorta (at the root) was around 6.3 cm. My hopes for a false reading from my previous tests at a different cardiology office was deflated. David and Sunny was so nice and caring that they helped me a lot to alleviate my fears.

My next step was to get my HMO to approve me to have the repair surgery done by Craig Miller. And boy, this was such a nightmarish experience that I don’t ever wasn’t to go thru again. After being jerked around and denied a couple of times by the HMO, and many frustrating phone calls and visits with my network physicians and cardiothoracic surgeon, I finally got the HMO to approve me to get the surgery done by Dr. Miller.

The basis for my requirement to get the surgery done at Stanford was because Dr. Miller is one of the most experienced surgeons in the world that can save the heart valves. By the way, Dr. Miller is just as nice and personable and down to earth as David and his staff are.

Well, I had my surgery on July 20, and am now recovering well at home. The surgery was 9 hours but Dr. Miller was able to save my valves and he said they look good and should last me a long time. I stayed in the hospital until July 25. I must say that the first month of recovery was not a pleasant thing to go through. My chest hurt every time I cough, turn, get up, laid down, etc. The worst was probably my throat (or was it my tongue – I couldn’t really tell) hurt badly from the tube the breathing tube.

This pain lasted almost 4 weeks after the surgery! But once that healed, I was able to eat better, and in turn, I had more energy to walk more and more. I am up to walking between 2.5 to 3 miles a day, and actually today walked over 7 miles straight!

I went to see Dr. Miller yesterday for my follow up visit and he said I looked and my heart sounded good. He gave me the go ahead to return to work anytime I wanted to. I am probably going to start work again the first week of October. My chest still has a little discomfort, both from the incision (lower part) and the sternum not yet fully healed, but other than that I feel great.

The biggest thing is the relief that I have from not having to worry about a dissection anymore and the anxiety that I had before the operation. Dr. Miller is very sure that I do not have Marfan’s and David ruled out Ehler’s Danhlos the first time he saw me. The weird thing is that my oldest brother who is five years older than me, has an aortic root aneurysm also.

His aneurysm is asymmetrical in shape and is surgical at this point, measuring 6.2 at the largest points. He too is now seeing David and will have the surgery done by Dr. Miller on Sept. 30. Dr. Miller thinks we have a connective tissue mutated gene, that was probably inherited from our father. We can’t be sure what his aorta looked like since he passed away from cancer at the age of 37. At this point, the rest of both my and my brother’s aorta looks normal, but of course, we’ll have an echo done every year.

Brian, I just wanted to thank you so much for if not saving my life, then at least giving me a chance to have a better quality of life with the valve saving surgical repair- by referring me to David and the folks at Stanford. I truly believe that I stumbled upon your website not just by happen chance, but rather by divine intervention. God has blessed me in so many ways, and I’m looking forward to not waste any part of the rest of my life away. You are doing great work with your website so please keep it up. You’re welcome to use any part of my story to add to your site, as a fellow aortic dissection/aneurysm survivor, I too would like to help others if I can.

God Bless,

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!)

Ricky Flanders


Personal Stories: Duane

I spoke w/you on the phone the other day. My name is Duane. I, as I told you also had an Aortic Dissection. Mine felt like a burst in my chest around 2p.m. on Dec. 16 2003.

I was 31 years old at the time and since have been blessed w/my 32nd birthday. Any how; on the 16th of Dec. I was removed from the area where I work, which can be considered a stressful environment! I was moved to the facility’s hospital where I was given nitro to slow down my heart. I refused to stay down even so far as to become combative.

At 6’+ and 320#’s That created many problems for me in the weeks to come! I was ambulanced to the local hospital by 3pm and was told that I probably had food poisoning! I was flown to the next city around 11p.m. and went into surgery around 1a.m. Dec.17.I don’t know all  the details after that but I do remember waking up to all my big brothers(3 of them none whom I have had to look up to for years) on Jan. 2nd or 3rd and thinking “ahhhhh, s___

I died and went to hell!!”I was restrained to my bed and did not feel I could move my legs. (my arms were restrained) I have since went to rehab where I learned to talk, swallow, walk, (eat, drink, and the rest that comes with all this) I came home on Jan. 17, 2004. to my wonderful family.

Update: 4/22/04:

Brian ,

Well I have been having a rough time keeping my head up do to the idea my biological father is having surgery for his aneurisms in his iliac. He also has a growth inside his heart. He told me it is called coronary ectasia. I go numb on occasion and have not figured out what is causing it. I believe it is nerves from years of pulling milk. But who knows until you talk to the docs. I am sending pictures b4 and after.

As for drugs that I am on:I  take lasix,avapro,protonix,trandate and have ambien and lorazipan for those nights when I can’t get a grip! I was cleared for light duty at work for 4/15/04 although there is none available. I am cleared to go back full-duty 5/17/04. Well I am going to send The pics. Hope to talk soon (530)257 2442 and the city I was flown to is Reno, Nevada

Update: 6/1/04

Hello Everyone,

Just writing a tidbit on my latest appointment with the cardiologists. Today my wife and two young Helsels accompanied myself to Reno where we attended an appt. with Dr. Nobles. He looked over my chart and introduced himself to Maura and Declan, he then looked at me and pointed to the line on my chart that shows blood pressure readings. He then said, “Things look excellent.” He checked my pulse at the ankle then at my neck and then listened through my chest cavity. He again smiled and said, “Wow!!!;not a one murmer” Apparently things have healed well and I am well on my way to recovery.   Well its been “Just Another Day” in Duane’s life   Duane


Hey Brian,

It has been a while since we spoke. I thought I’d bring you up to speed. After a year and 4 months my original LIFESAVING surgery has been re-evaluated and surgically removed by Dr.Craig Miller. I re-entered the hospital here in Susanville, Ca. on March 23,2005. This time the Doctor and nurses were very expedient to do a CT and fly me out to Reno,Nv. The original surgeon (the one who performed the LIFESAVING surgery originally) was a little surprised to see me back in his local hospital. He attended to me very cautiously.

Speaking with his peers localy and at Stanford made a decision to have me flown to Stanford. There was found an anomaly in my thoracic region. Apparently the original dacron hose and sutures had given a little and sprung a leak that created a sudo anyeurism.(from the CT scan it looked like a sack had formed behind the aorta and was not leaking anywhere. Dr. Miller went in on Easter Sunday and replaced my aortic valve with a St. Judes Valve and the aorta across the arch. Every thing seems to be well as of now. I am now a somewhat skeptic but a thankful skeptic. Gotta go haven’t been getting much sleep due to my personal life.

Duane Helsel

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Duane’s Picture Before his AorticDissection

Duane’s Family picture after AorticDissection w/exchange student

Father/Daughter Dance Picture

Duane after the surgery!

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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