Extreme Aortic Dissection
5 February 1996
On Dec 26, 1993, I experienced an aortic dissection. The dissection tore, or separated, the tissue layers in the walls of my aorta . The tear initiated at the aortic valve and extended through the arch and down beyond the renal artery and my kidneys and into my left leg. The tear also extended up the carotid arteries on both sides of my neck to somewhere in or near my brain.
It was about 7 pm and I had just showered and was getting dressed to go to dinner. I felt a little nauseous but no pain at the time. Suddenly I felt a very strange "fullness". I sat down on the floor and my vision slowly faded away and I passed out. My wife called 911 and I awoke to the sounds of the paramedics. I still felt a little nauseous but awake. The emergency personnel said I had a low blood pressure but didn't know what might be wrong. As they wheeled me out of the house my left foot became numb. As the short, 3-4 mile trip progressed, the numbness worked it's way up eventually encompassing my entire leg and buttocks. By the time I got to the hospital my left leg from the waist down hurt. I felt "generally bad" and I was starting to vomit wildly. After being "stabilized" and informed that I had a "boot shaped" heart and no pulse in my left leg, I was immediately transferred to St. Lukes Hospital at the Texas Medical Center.
I was admitted to a room and told I would be given some tests in the morning. By this time the discomfort in my leg was somewhat better than before however I still felt terrible, as if I had a bad case of the flu. I laid awake all night, having several doctors sporadically trying to find a pulse in my cold left foot. At about 9 am some-one arrived to take me for an ultra-sound scan. In a wheel chair I was taken down to the appropriate area. Once on the table for the scan I realized that it was obvious to the technician something was wrong with me. The girl that performed the test began shaking very noticeably when she ran the scope over my chest. I was wheeled back to my room and waited. Finally a doctor arrived and said "I think you have a serious problem. I want to run an angiogram." So off I went to the next test. This time as I laid on the table I started again to feel very sick. As they began the injection I heard someone say "...OH IT'S GOING BOTH WAYS!". This time I was suddenly surrounded by people and was told "Don't move, just lie still!"
Approximately 4 hours later, in surgery, Dr. David Ott replaced my Aortic Valve with a Saint Judes valve. The ascending aortic arch, which had expanded to the size of a fist, was replaced with a Dacron tube. Consequently the coronary arteries where also repositioned with some "parts borrowed" from my groin.
At the time I was 37 years old and in "excellent" health. I was a runner training frequently an average of 100 miles a month. Despite the severity of the dissection, I am convinced that the fact that I was in excellent cardio-vascular health helped save my life.
Because of my lifelong involvement in athletics I always thought I knew my body well. During the previous 5-6 years I intrinsically knew "something" was wrong. I experienced episodes of instant deep sweats and nausea, chest and neck discomfort and other symptoms that where unusual to me. However, despite repeated visits to cardiologists and other doctors, I began to believe I was a hypochondriac! The fact that I had no family history, of any type of genetically inherited illness, and was in good general health, seemed to put me in the "low risk/over concerned" category. In many ways I was relieved when I finally found out something was indeed wrong.
My dissection remains but has been stable since 1/95. I am very grateful to be alive and feel good yet the remaining tear is a persistent concern for myself and more so for my family. I help support the drug companies by ingesting a significant amount of various medicines daily, primarily to reduce my blood pressure and pulse rate, as well as protect myself from blood clots. Most unfortunately I am limited to virtually no exercise, at least with regard to the way I lived before getting sick.
One irritation for me is the fact that I had many tests run during the previous years (in another city) yet no person involved with my dissection was interested in reevaluating these tests. As interpretive as predictive medicine is, it's incomprehensible to me that someone would not be interested in at least attempting to look for possible clues in the existing data, especially after observing the outcome. How are practioners' interpretations going to improve without a strong curiosity about the facts? Is this lack of interest symptomatic of other deeper issues or legal concerns? As a scientist, who's decisions and predictions are routinely tested and have a direct influence on corporate profit, I would have to say that the answer is yes to the last two questions.
I feel strongly that you are your best doctor. Despite their knowledge and intuitive skills, doctors may not always be the best person to judge what may be wrong with you, especially if you cannot communicate to them how significantly different your symptoms are from your daily life. Repeated signals given by your body over a long period of time are important and should be addressed regardless of the interpretations of others.
Despite these negative issues, I feel good and love my life. I have so much to be thankful for and realize there are a lot of other people who have situations a LOT worse than I. I am more deeply moved by the feelings and concerns of others and truly understand the significance of the "fragility of life".
LIFE IS GOOD!
Update: 7 Mar 2003
I'm happy to report that almost ten years out things are going very well for me. In December 2001 however, my father was diagnosed with an ascending arch aneurysm after seeking medical help for another problem. He had corrective surgery that same month.
Update by Glenna Lee: 9 August 2005
I am so sorry to say, Bob passed away on July 5, 2005 of a ruptured brain aneurysm. He was 49 years old. We were told his death was in no way linked to the first aneurysm that he had in 1996. He is very much missed by all of the friends he made at Anadarko the 20 plus years he worked here. He had updated his story in 2003 and stated that "Life is Good". He lived each day with enthusiasm and with a true love for life. He will never be forgotten.
I am sad for Bob and all who have had to endure the pain of having an aneurysm or who have had family members with one. I am sure God is enjoying Bob's company now. He was truly a pleasure to be around and he is missed by all who got the privilege of meeting him. I am thankful God let him touch so many lives before taking him home to be with him.
© Copyright 1996 Bob Young