Joe’s Story

I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and was taking meds for that for about a year before my aorta dissected. One day my blood pressure spiked to 180/100 and my doctor upped my blood pressure meds. Three days later I was at work at the main post office in Rochester, NY, at 11:30 in the morning. I was a window clerk in the middle of doing a passport application when I began to sweat profusely and got faint. 

I got a sharp stabbing pain in my chest which knocked me to the floor. One of my coworkers helped me to my feet and, with his help, I made it to the manager’s office nearby. My left side was completely numb at this time. I sat there for a few minutes until I got my bearings back. I still felt faint and was asked if I wanted to call 911. Because it was noontime and the place was very busy I declined; I wanted to try to sit there until whatever it was had passed. Another coworker insisted that she take me to emergency if I did not want to call 911. 

Together we walked to her car and about 15 minutes later I was in the emergency room. They took me right in and gave me the usual exam as if I was having a heart attack. I told the doctor that it seemed that my pain was above where my heart is. They told me that my blood pressure then was 210/125 and put me on IV to stabilize it. They then told me after my pressure had subsided that the plan was to monitor me and I was to take a treadmill test to see if I had blockage in my arteries. After about seven hours, the attending physician gave me nitro pills to see if the pain would go away. After taking seven nitro pills, a different doctor ordered a CT scan. I asked for some water because they hadn’t let me eat or drink anything yet. 

I took a sip of water and immediately a sharp pain hit me in the chest. I was rushed to radiology and after only one trip into the CT scan unit, which took only about 10 seconds, I was talked out and a doctor came to tell me that a surgeon was on the way. I asked what was going on and when the surgeon got there within a minute I was given a permission form to sign. The surgeon then told me that my aorta had just dissected and surgery was “emergent,” a word I had never heard before. I texted my daughter-in-law in Phoenix and the text said aorta dissection–going to surgery. She is an RN and told my son they had to get to Rochester asap and I would probably be gone when they arrived. I was taken to surgery and Dr. George Hicks at Strong Memorial Hospital saved my life! 

The next thing I knew I was in intensive care recovery and when I opened my eyes there was applause in the room that I was awake. Dr. Hicks visited me in my room the next day and when I asked him how lucky I was he told me that I had just hit the lottery–twice! He put in a graft of my ascending aorta. 

He told me that the dissection actually occurred while I was in the CT scan and that probably was why I had survived. I was out of work for seven months and went back to work against my doctors’ advice. There were so many restrictions put on me that I had to retire in 2012. 

Now I have been told that my abdominal aorta is compromised and as long as my blood pressure is controlled I should be ok. This is a long story but my life changed dramatically that day. I am still here!! 

– Joe