My husband Mitch had an ascending and descending aortic dissection in December of 2014 at 50 years old. He was at work when he had severe chest pain that moved to his back. I had never seen him like this before. He has a high threshold for pain so when he said he needed me to take him somewhere to get relief for his back I knew it was serious. We left our kids with my mother-in-law and went to the ER. There was an incredible ER doctor who quickly diagnosed his dissection from his symptoms and CT scan. He was immediately transferred to a nearby heart center by critical care ambulance and immediately taken into surgery. This happened so quickly it was difficult to understand the magnitude of what was going on.
I would not let myself Google aortic dissection until he was out of surgery for fear of what I might find out. After surgery, his surgeon gave me more details. His dissection began at the root of his heart and traveled down into his left thigh. His aortic root was replaced with a synthetic one and his root was re-suspended. Every doctor who saw him during his stay in the hospital would shake his hand and congratulate him on being alive.
The tear was as close to the heart as could be without killing him immediately. The surgeon said he will always wonder why my husband had a dissection because, other than high blood pressure (which was controlled with BP medication prior to dissection), he has no contributing factors that would cause his dissection. The high BP alone should not cause a dissection he told us. Mitch stayed one week in the hospital to recover from surgery with the help of incredible ICU nurses.
We are extremely fortunate and grateful for his recovery. The first year was a year of learning a new normal for Mitch and our family. Mitch was unable to go back to work as a self-employed carpenter, which was very difficult for him to accept. But there was no choice. Our Kids, who were 13 and 11 at the time of his dissection, are extremely protective of their dad now. They don’t let him lift anything they feel is remotely heavy, even if it doesn’t come close to the 20 pound limit the doctor restricted him to. They are also very understanding about his sodium intake and how it affected what we as a family eat.
Since the surgery it has been very difficult to keep his blood pressure stable. The systolic # is generally 125-155. He currently takes 300 mg of beta blockers daily, 40 milligrams of BP med quinapril daily, and 60 milligrams of calcium channel blockers daily, all to try and help control his BP. He also takes prescribed pain medication and muscle relaxers to help reduce his significant back pain due to his previous back injuries. When his back pain is high it increases his BP even more.
He goes to physical therapy weekly to help his back pain. The high dosage of meds he is on makes his day very different than it was prior to his dissection due to all of their side effects. His memory and attention span are significantly reduced. His level of energy is almost depleted after small amounts of activity. He always feels fatigued. When he occasionally feels good he can tend to overdo it which causes more back pain and even more fatigue. Naps are a necessity and not a luxury anymore. But we are slowly getting used to our new normal and happy to, if it means it will help Mitch.
One of the struggles we have had is finding the right cardiologist for my husband. We have been seeing the same cardiologist since he was released from the hospital. Unfortunately, this doctor has only one other patient with a dissection and in many ways a very different case than my husband’s. I expect our cardiologist to be more informed on this subject than he appears to be at my husband’s appointments. It has been very difficult to find a doctor who has significant experience with dissections.