Category: Twenties

Priscilla Dixon-29

Name: Priscilla Dixon
Age at time of Dissection: 29
Type of Dissection: Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 29 January 2012
Tell Us Your Story:

My step daughter, Holly, had an identical twin that died of of this 7 years ago, 5 days after giving birth. Her name was Heather. In Jan. of 2012, Holly became ill, around noon on a Sunday. She complained of nausea and back ache…as the afternoon progressed, the backache, became worse…she tried to nap, and around 5 in the afternoon, she went from flushed checks, to being as grey as the street in front of the house..

I immediately brought her to the emergency. room. They gave her pain med. and said she had a kidney infection….and started to admit her. while we were waiting for a wheel chair, she mentioned that she had not been there since Heather died. The Dr. asked her who Heather was,and she told him. At that time he ordered an MRI proved there was an aortic dissection.

She was airlifted to a larger hospital and spent 17 days in ICCU…6 months later, she is doing better, but still has problems with her internal organs. She had her gall bladder removed in March, and is now having liver problems…and has been advised to never have children…

Zach Swafford-23

Name: Zach Swafford
Age at time of Dissection: 23
Type of Dissection: Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 18 December 2011
Tell Us Your Story:

My story was not like most on this site that I’ve read because my injury was not dissection but a torn aorta as a result of a car accident. Though the onset of the condition was different the treatment for the my aortic tear was the same, a bypass. However, through a series of very lucky and timely coincidences I was saved by a groundbreaking procedure, an aortic stent.

Before I start this story I should say that I don’t remember anything about my accident. During severe trauma the body begins pumping so much adrenaline that your brain loses it’s ability to form memory. In many ways I’m glad I don’t remember it.

I had just graduated from the University of Idaho and was traveling home to Reno, NV with my car packed to the brim. I reached a stretch of road that receives no sunlight in the winter as the road enters a canyon. Unknown to me, rain from 2 days before had formed black ice on the road. I lost control, went sideways and was struck by an oncoming car on the driver’s side. I was knocked unconscious. When I came to a short time later I was pinned in my car. I was complaining of severe chest pain.

My aorta had almost entirely torn. Of the aorta’s 4 layers, the 3 inside had torn and the fourth had partially torn. I was losing blood fast. The accident had happened a couple miles south of a small town in Idaho called Cambridge and there was no cell phone reception. Luckily a truck driver came along only a minute later, radioed out to another driver who called 911. The accident occurred at 11:45am…the volunteer ambulance out of Cambridge was dispatched at 11:46. When the paramedics got there they had to use the jaws of life to get me out of the car. That took around 10 or 15 minutes because the drivers side of my car was so crushed in. Once they got it open, they got me on a back brace and headed south with me to meet the professional paramedic crew who was heading north out of Weiser to meet them.

When the ambulance met they stopped on the side of the road, the professional paramedics jumped into the other ambulance and tried to get an IV going. I was in such a severe state of shock at this point that it was nearly impossible. I was fading in and out of consciousness but I was talking. Apparently I kept cracking jokes (I really need to find a less dark sense of humor). The paramedic said that it was the toughest stick he’s had to do in the 25 years he’s been doing it but they eventually got 2 going, one in each arm and they began squeezing fluids into me. Once they got those going they headed to Midvale Airport to meet the Lifeflight helicopter that was coming in to get me.

By the time the helo landed they had pushed 5 units of fluid (5 liters) in 25 minutes. They had thought about hanging a sixth bag but were worried it would dilute my blood so much I wouldn’t be able to carry oxygen. When they got me on the helicopter the paramedics thought I wouldn’t even ma
ke it to the hospital in Boise.

The trip on the helicopter is a mystery. I don’t know if they did anything else to stabilize me or if that didn’t happen until the hospital because I survived a couple more hours until my surgery. When I got to the hospital they gave me a CT scan and determined I had a ruptured aorta. This is where I become extremely lucky. Dr. Christopher Alessi.

As most of you know the standard procedure for repairing the aorta is open heart surgery. The risk level of that surgery is high when it’s planned and in the best circumstances. The survival rate for that surgery for a person in my state was less than 10%. However, Dr. Alessi had pioneered a procedure for repairing an aortic tear with an aortic stent. The imaging was sent to Dr. Alessi at his home in Boise and he said he could repair the damage and headed to the hospital. They had me ready when he arrived.

The procedure involved cutting into the top of my left leg to access my femoral artery where they slipped the stent in. They moved the stent up the femoral artery and all the way up my aorta until it reached the damaged area. The problem was that my tear had knocked my aorta out of the alignment and the stent couldn’t slide through so they had to wrench my body around on the table to get the damaged ends of my aorta to line up. Finally the stent slid into the damaged area and was deployed by inflating a balloon. After the stent was deployed I began to stabilize. The procedure took a little more than a half an hour.

I woke up a day later, intibated and unable to see in the ICU. I couldn’t remember anything so naturally I was a bit confused. By this time my parents had made the trip up to Boise and were there to explain what happened. My dad’s side of the family all lives in Boise so I had tremendous family support for my recovery.

I later found out that this procedure has only been done for 2 years. Dr. Alessi pioneered the procedure and I was in 1 of the 3 places in the country (Seattle, Atlanta, and Boise) that I could receive this procedure. Dr. Alessi estimated that I’m around the 20th person in the world to have this done.

I sustained a number of other injuries in the accident. Fractures in every rib on my left side and a couple on my right, lacerated spleen and liver, non-displaced fractures in my pelvis, non-displaced fractures in my L3 and L4 vertebra and a partially collapsed lung. I had a chest tube put in to drain all the blood that I had lost internally. The first few days I was putting out nearly 4000ccs of fluid a day but that tailed off quickly and I was released from the hospital 8 days later. I spent a couple weeks with family and my amazing girlfriend who flew in to see me in Boise. Then I headed home. I’ve been here in Reno healing for a few weeks now and I expect a full recovery soon.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about the accident and how lucky I am. It’s been a weird thing to think about. In fact, in many ways I still haven’t really come to terms with it. Had it happened a couple years earlier, a few miles more remote, if the car had hit mine farther forward, if I wasn’t as calm as I was after the accident, if I wasn’t near Boise, if Dr. Alessi hadn’t have been there…all those things run through my head constantly. I just remind myself to be thankful for the new lot on life that I have and make the most of it. I have a supportive family and an amazing and loving girlfriend. I am lucky in so many more ways than just the accident and it’s helped me see that. I won’t waste it.

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Tiffany Bralley-28

Name: Tiffany Bralley
Age at time of Dissection: 28
Type of Dissection: Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 9 November 2010
Tell Us Your Story:

I just suffered a thoracic aortic dissection November 9, 6 days after I had my baby. My dissection was caused by my high blood pressure from my pregnancy. I had been released from the hospital the previous day and woke up with back pain. I thought my pain was from laying in a hospital bed all week. I drove myself to the ER and was admitted quickly. I had wonderful doctors who knew immediately what was wrong and did a CT scan to confirm what they already knew.

The doctor told me they needed to contact the heart surgeon to see if I needed surgery. That was the first I knew something was seriously wrong. Luckily, I did not need surgery because my dissection was a Type B and they wanted to treat it with medication. I was in ICU for 4 days and was closely watched. I take tons of medication a day but am back to feeling good again. I closely monitor my pain and my blood pressure daily. I am just so grateful my ER doctor knew exactly what was happening so I can be here to enjoy my new family.

I have fear about the future with this, but keep praying that everything will be alright. I never had even heard about aortic dissections before this. I had no idea when I was in the hospital how serious the situation was, which I guess was a good thing at the time. It has been very difficult to deal with, having a new baby and all. I am praying that I will be around a long time to see him grow up!

Contact Tiffany

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Amber Berg-28

Name: Amber Berg
Age at time of Dissection: 28
Type of Dissection: Descending
Date of Aortic Dissection: 29 August 2010 Tell Us Your Story: I am a 28 year old Marfan’s patient in Denver Colorado and on August 29, 2010 I was 6 days post postpartum (my 2nd daughter was born via scheduled c-section on August 23, 2010). I had been advised against giving birth to a second child due to the dangers and risks with Marfan’s…of course, I didn’t listen…

My husband had just cooked a late dinner and I was sitting on the couch eating. I started feeling an odd pain between my shoulder blades, not on my back, and not on my chest. It literally felt like it was in the middle. I kept telling my husband that I felt weird and I had never had that feeling before. All of a sudden the pain shot down my back, it felt like someone was stabbing me from the inside. The pain was so intense that it took my breath away. it came in waves and was so scary. We packed up our 3 year old and our 6 day old and headed to downtown Denver to the Emergency Room. Luckily, one of the doctors that was working new a little bit about Marfan’s.

I told them that I was 6 days post postpartum, I already have a dilated aortic root (4.3 cm) and I had Marfan’s. He immediately gave me some pain meds through an IV and ordered a CT Scan. After my scan, he broke the news to me. My descending aorta had dissected. I called my parents from the hospital and told them, they raced to be at my side. Marfan’s is very present on my dad’s side of the family and both my grandfather and my auntie passed away when they had their aortic dissections. I remember them wheeling me up to the ICU and I don’t remember the next 17 days.

I was in the hospital for 20 days, I remember the last 3 days and have been told that it’s better I don’t remember the 17 earlier days. The vascular surgeons were about 5 minutes away from sending me to Houston Texas for Dr. Joseph Cosseli to perform surgery when he had suggested that they try to use medication to control my dissection first. While in the hospital I have been told that I “Freaked out” and was ripping tubes out of myself and pretty much going crazy, I don’t remember any of that. My dad did tell me that he was advised by Dr. Cosseli that this “freak out” was very common among dissection patients and that no one has been able to figure out why it happens. I have been home now since September 17, 2010 and am terrified everyday that something bad is going to happen.

I continue to have extreme pain in between my shoulder blades, not the same pain that I had that dreadful night, but severe and extreme pains. I am on a TON of blood pressure medication, take my blood pressure twice a day and send my numbers to my cardiologist once per week. On Monday October 18th I have a CT Scan schedule and then I meet with the vascular surgeon’s and my cardiologist shortly after. I pray that everything is OK and healing correctly, but I am very anxious about my appointments. I am hoping that I will not have this continuing pain for the rest of my life and that it is not a sign that something is wrong.

Eventually I will have to have 2 surgeries. One to replace my aortic root and one to replace my descending aorta. Now that I have kids and a family I am very worried about these surgeries and am overcome at times with an extreme feeling of guilt. I don’t want to leave this earth without seeing my girls grow up and I don’t want to leave my husband as a single father. Finding this website offered a bit of relief. To read other stories similar to mine and to see that I am not the only one with these feelings.

Has anyone else continued to have pain after their dissection?

Thanks for taking the time to read my story.

Amber Berg

Denver, Colorado

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!)

Amy Schmidt-28

Personal Stories: Amy Schmidt

I am so glad that I found this site. It’s really a relief to know that there are a lot of others out there going through the same thing. I have read some fascinating success stories, and I thought I’d share mine.

October 27, 2004 started out like any other day. I am a part-time reading teacher at an elementary school in NW Pennsylvania. I got to school and found out that a substitute teacher did not show, and I would have to cover that classroom- no sweat! The day proceeded as normal, I ate lunch in the teacher’s lounge, called my husband to see how his dentist appointment went, and walked down to the cafeteria to pick up “my” class.

On the way up the steps (to get our coats for recess), I felt a terrible burning sensation in my chest and moderate pain. I thought it strange that a PB&J would cause such heartburn, but I tried to ignore it. With every step I took, the pain intensified. I felt as though someone had opened my chest with a chainsaw and lit a blowtorch and was aiming it directly into my abdomen and chest. I knew something was majorly wrong as I walked to the nurse’s office and my left leg had gone numb. My father had a heart attack at the age of 41, and I assumed the same thing was happening to me, and I was only 28.

The next thing I know, phone calls are being made to 911, my husband of only four months, Andrew, and my father at work. I was taken to a local hospital where at first they thought I was having an anxiety attack. This is where my story gets crazy.

My father’s sister had an aortic dissection in July of 2003. It took doctors two weeks to diagnose her, and after 14 surgeries, she is recovering slowly but surely. My father took one look at my symptoms and knew exactly what was happening to me. My father told the doctors to check me for aortic dissection, and the next thing you know, I’m being life-flighted to Cleveland Clinic. If my aunt had not had an aortic dissection, I now truly believe that I would have died. It was both a blessing and a curse wrapped into one. I feel terrible that my aunt had to go through everything she did, but if she hadn’t, I may not be here telling my story.

About ten hours into my whole ordeal, I finally had a stent placed in my descending aorta (vascularly- I was very lucky to not have my chest opened up), and blood flow was re-established to my left leg (which I was told I almost lost). I thank my Vascular Surgeon, Dr. Daniel Clair and his team for saving my life. I’m told I was very close to death when I arrived at Cleveland Clinic. I remained in Cleveland Clinic for the next two weeks and then was sent back to Erie to spend two weeks at a local rehabilitation hospital. I was sent home on Thanksgiving Eve.

I am now on Labetalol, ToprolXL, and Enalapril daily to control my blood pressure and heart rate. I have also been placed on Lexapro for depression-like symptoms. I have drop foot because of the lack of blood flow to my left leg and foot, and severe nerve damage, which is finally starting to regenerate (which is extremely uncomfortable and painful). I completed physical therapy to try to regain my dorsiflection in my left foot and stimulate my nerves to regenerate quicker. Because of all of the stress on my body due to the dissection, I lost 30 pounds (which I really didn’t have to lose in the first place), my hair is fell out (not bald, luckily I had really thick hair to start with) and acne (which I never had as a teenager, but eventually went away with a prescription antibiotic. Probably due to stress and medication). I returned to work for the the 2005-2006 school year.

I think the fact that I’m only 30 (just turned in February) was really on my side through all of this. I still have an extremely long way to go to get back to the “old Amy”, but my main goal is to stick around for many years and to be able to go for a walk around the block whenever all this snow melts (if it EVER does!). My husband, family and friends have been incredible helping me cope and get through all of this. I can never thank them enough.

My next step was genetic testing at the Cleveland Clinic. They don’t feel that I show characteristics of Marfan’s, but they are going to tested me for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (which I did not have). I will also most likely find out if I will ever be able to have children, which is a touchy area with me because children have always been my life and my husband and I haven’t even been married two years and were thinking about starting a family.

Since my dissection a year and a half ago, we’ve had four more dissections in my family, including my younger brother, Stephen (just turned 27). We are currently enrolled in a genetic study at the University of Texas due to the large number of dissections in our family. Luckily, everyone has survived due to our current knowledge on this subject which we never would have known if it weren’t for all of the dissections in our family

Contact Amy

Stephanie Gonzalez-21

Personal Stories: Stephanie Gonzalez

My name is Stephanie and I had an aortic dissection on Christmas Day 2005. On Christmas Eve I had stabbing pain in my back that went to my chest and up to my jaw.

I waited an hour or so then the pain became to much and I went to the emergency room. The hospital did an ekg and found nothing wrong and put me back in the waiting room. I waited for the x ray and it was actually the lady that did the x ray that brought it to light with the doctors.

She called the doctor to look at the x ray and then everyone was rushing everywhere to get blood work and cat scans done. Within 30 minutes I was life flighted to another hospital that specialized in my sititution. At the other hospital I was put in ICU and the doctors explained that I had an aortic dissection type A and B.

They said they had to fix the type A first because it was life threatening and could rupture anytime. I was out of my mind I didn’t know what to think I had never had any heart problems except a heart mummer when I was born. So on Christmas Day I went threw a 6 hour open heart surgery.

I spent 3 days in ICU and a week and a half in the hospital needless to say the hospital bill is unimaginable. Now I am scheduled to go back to fix the descending sometime at the end of February. I have been told that I am lucky because I could of just died without no warning and now I am involved in a research because they found out I have Loeys-Dietz syndrome it is something related to Marfans.

I know those are probly something many have never heard of including myself until I was diagnosed with it. Thank you for letting me share my story with you and for taking the time to read it.

Contact Stephanie

Marfan's Patient-25

Personal Stories: Marfan Syndrome Person (female)

My Daughter was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome at the age of 10. She is now 25 and has a dissection due to child birth. She was released from Pediatric Cardiology at the age of 23. Doctors said that her Aorta was normal and that she did not have Marfan syndrome. My daughter was seen by many doctors from the age of 10 to 23 concerning this condition. At the beginning I was told that she was not allowed to play any organized sports, nor anything that would raise her heart rate. I asked about child birth (even at the early age of 10), it was recommended that she did not have children.

As the years went on and he aorta checked yearly, the doctors finally dismissed her at 23. Again, I asked about child birth and I was told that my daughters aorta was fine that she could have 5 to 10 babies normal. She became pregnant a year later. She told her baby doctor that she was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome but not sure if she had it, (because what we were told for the past 13 years).

He paid no attention and treated her like a normal girl expecting. She had her little boy on Aug. 30th, normal delivery and 2 days later her aorta dissected from the top of the arch to the very end. Her aorta is now 4.1 cm and still growing, at the time of her dissection it was 3.4 so in 20 months it has enlarged 2.9 cm. She is being closing watched and now taking blood pressure medicine to keep her pressure down.

Now she is experiencing joint problems, swelling of her wrist, ankles, fingers, and her knees. She has been to a specialist who is now sending her to a rumatolgist and since she is now on disability, she has no medical insurance (has to be disable for 2 yrs before she can receive any medical coverage) that’s another story. Our family doctor has done some blood work and says that she has a high influmation count, ostero arthritis and Lupus. I think this has something to do with her dissection but her heart surgeon does not think so, any thought on all of this? Please reply, and please ignore the mis-spelling. Thanks for taking the time to read our story.

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