My name is Stan, actually the full name is Konstantin Pepeliaev and I am currently 28. I've read your letter on the web while searching on the information about Aortic Aneurysm.
I am originally from Russia, had been in the US since 1990. Back in Russia I played basketball, was a member of Russian (then Soviet) National team, and came to the US as a first Russian Athlete on College scholarship. Played for Virginia Commonwealth University for three years graduated with a coaching/training degree, then went on my own to get a degree in Information Systems (Computers were always my obsession). Now I am employed as programmer/analyst by the Circuit City Inc. Headquarters here in Richmond, VA.
One morning March 30, 1998, about 6am, I was playing basketball with colleagues from work at the gym. After we finished playing I started feeling chest pain. And good for me I've decided to drive home. Once I got home, my wife - Kirsten was still there, she works at the hospital right across the street. She took my blood pressure and did not like it, so she called the family physician. He asked her to ask me if I have pain in my left arm, I said no. Then he asked if my jaws were hurting or cramped, on which I responded "yes". He told my wife to take me immediately to the closest ER, because every second at that point was counted. Thank god we live right next to the Henrico Doctors Hospitals, to be exact 100 yards from their fence and then 200 yards to the hospital itself through its parking lot. While my wife was still talking to the doctor I started walking to the ER. After that I can remember very little. Mostly all I know is what was told by my wife Kirsten.
She told me that they give me a lot of stuff to get blood pressure down, took me through the Cat scanner, EKG, and all type of things. I was out during the whole period. Then suddenly I opened my eyes as were wheeling me towards the OR and my wife was holding my hand. I asked her "is it a heart?". She said "No, just an aorta ruptured, but your heart is fine and the doctor said that it should not be more than 4-5 hours, and I would be fine..." With those words in my mind I closed my eyes and went back to sleep knowing that everything was going to be alright.
Five hours later the nurse came out and told my wife that things are getting worse and the doctors are doing all they can, but the way that nurse said it, was so gentle and caring so my wife believed her, and thanked her for information. At that point even bad information was some information than nothing.
The surgery was performed by the Cardiac Surgeon Dr. Marc Katz. Who is a brilliant surgeon but had never had a case like this before. During the surgery the blood pressure went up and they could not stop it, but by surrounding my body with ice to bring my body temperature to 17 degrees Celsius, which is approximately 65 on Fahrenheit. As long as I remember 24 degrees Celsius is the temperature of a dead body. So once they fought it, they started working on mine busted aorta and valve. They did one bypass and replaced the valve with a prosthesis one. Not to mention that they cut the blood supply to my whole body for 2 hours, giving oxygen and nutrients through the machine, which was supplying blood to the brain.
The surgery was performed brilliantly, except for the promised time period. Next day, Tuesday morning, 14 hours later the doctor came out and said that I would live but in what condition he could not say. He was hoping that my young trained body will meet the challenge and get me over this nightmare. For some reason Dr. Katz decided not to go home and stick around for a while in suspicion. And he was right I started bleeding internally. One good thing about me at that point was that my blood type is OB negative. I have no Idea what it meant, before my wife told me that it meant I can use any blood type, except "A" and "AB", from any person, and my body would not fight it. And the phenomenon is that 30% of Russians have that blood type. The largest percentage per country in the world. So as I was bleeding, they pumped 12 liters of blood (3.5 gallons) into me before I stopped. Then Dr.Katz knew that at that point they really did what they could and it was up to me and prayers of my wife and friends waiting in the "waiting area" (15 people who rushed in the middle of the night, all of whom had to go to work in the morning and one guy had a flight to catch in the morning from Washington DC to Russia). One of the first people who came to see Kirsten was her older sister Courtney, who called their father.
On Wednesday Kirsten's father came from DC, and her sister Paige flew to Richmond from Atlanta. I do not remember seeing them since I was in coma,but when I asked why did Paige flew here from Atlanta: "Did she come to visit the family, and I spoiled her trip?" To which Kirsten said: "No, she came here because she heard of your situation." Thank you Courtney and Paige for being there not only for me that mainly for Kirsten.
I was put in ICU in coma to speed up the heeling. Couple times doctors stopped by and neurologist was checking the Babinsky reflex, by moving a metal wheel on the bottom of your foot, and even if you are in coma the reflex still should work and you would jerk your leg. But my leg did not move for couple of days. So the next concerns for the doctors were would I be able to walk again, and would my brain function properly to remember the English and everything else. On the third day when the neurologist came to check the reflex again, as he moved his little wheel on the bottom of my foot, I kicked that thing out of his hands (that is what my wife told me, because I was still in the Coma), and yelled "Get that f#$@%$#g thing away from my foot!" Apparently I yelled it so hard, that all the nurses from nurse-station ran in not believing that it was me screaming. My wife started crying and laughing at the same time because both questions raised by the doctors were answered.
That same day I tried to turn on my stomach, because apparently I got tired sleeping on my back. But every time I tried to lay on my stomach the tubes in the stomach would hurt me. So at some point the nurses heard the beeping from my room and when they ran in they saw me sleeping in a push-up position, resting on semi-bent arms without touching the bed with the stomach and tubes. My wife got there at that time. The nurses turned me over to my back. As soon as they did that I pulled out all the tubes out of my stomach. They tried to put them in, but I would fight them. So the nurses had to call for help to hold me down. I was still in the coma and four people could barely hold my arms and legs. At one point I even sat up with two people holding my both arms trying to keep me down(By the way I am 7'2" and 235 lb athlete). The only way they could stop me by giving me a big shot to send me to "la-la land". At that point they all knew that if a man in his coma can fight four people, he will be OK.. But just in case they strapped me down to the bed for 3 days.
When I actually woke up, with a music of my favorite band (Pink Floyd) was playing, I had a big smile on my face, all the tubes were removed, and the only thing that was stuck in my body was an IV. While I was sleeping, Kirsten went and bought a CD player, and the easiest album by Pink Floyd "Wish You Were Here". Even though my favorite album is "The Wall" I am kinda glad that the store clerk advised her not to get that for someone who had a heart surgery.
I woke up with my favorite music, and my lovely wife sitting next to me, so I asked "What day is it?". She said "Tuesday". I said Cool only one night and I feel great!" She replied "No, sweetheart, it's been a week and one night".
Three days later I went home. And many people who did not even think that I was going to make it, had their jaws dropped down to the floor. Especially when a therapist came with a walker, and asked me if I could walk with it. I said "sure!" then picked the walker up and started walking around the floor holding it in the air. She said that was not what she had in mind, but since I've proven my point, I would not have to and live for a week in a therapy center with 60-70 years old people recovering from their surgeries.
Now a month later, and minus 30 pounds of my body, I am starting exercising a little by walking around the apartment complex, riding a stationary bike, tried to run but could not, which seemed so funny. My leg just gave up and I almost fell.
Here is my story, and I would like to bring a greatest point in all these adventures we had. While I was on drugs in "la-la land" and as happy as clown, my wife was the ones to was about to have a heart attack on her own. I keep thanking God for sending me such great wife, spouse, partner and friend. I was so happy when Kirsten started getting some sleep, and even encouraged her to get some naps here and there, to release the stress she had build up. Now we are getting to normal life, even better - all these things brought us much closer together. Here is a not a really good one translation (but showing the point) of a poem written by a Russian soldier during WW2. That poem went all over Russia and everyone knew it by heart. It was even in the curriculum of the high school Literature class:
...wait for me and I'll come back
as long as you keep waiting.
Wait whenever sadness comes
brought by rainy days.
Wait when snowing storm had came,
wait during summer heat.
Let those "friends" who's tired of waiting
sat down by the tree
to drink some sour bitter wine
to remember me.
You just wait and don't you rush
to keep them company.
Wait for me and I'll come back
as long as you believe.
Let those who gave up on waiting
tell you:"What a Luck!"
They would never understand
how it could've happened.
Only you and I will know
that in the middle of this mess
you have saved my life because
you knew what it takes to wait...