A terrorifying journey

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I am a 43 year old man and for the most part I had never been ill. Almost two years ago I woke up and began my day getting ready for school. I am a student at the University of Texas at El Paso. I started to have a weird tight feeling in my chest, it wasn’t really pain but I had never felt this way before. I sat at my desk and got my books ready to take with me to school and the feeling in my chest started to get worse. Now I would consider it pain. I began to feel like I couldn’t catch my breath and the pain spread up to my jaw.

I remembered that when my mother was only 55 she complained of having pain in her jaw and only minutes later she died. Now I was scared and I called my wife who was at work right up the street and I asked her to come home and bring me to the hospital. She suggested that I go to a little clinic that was close to our house and let them check me out. I drove to the clinic and my wife met me there. The nurse listened to my heart and said something is wrong go to the emergency room. Hmmm something is wrong...no kidding, thats why I went to the clinic.

My wife followed me home then she drove me to the hospital. By the time we got to the hospital, about 20 minutes, I had a very hard time walking through the door. My legs were week and I was very dizzy. I told the nurse at registration that I thought  was having a heart attack and she took me right into  a room where a cardiologist listened to my heart and called for an EKG. A nurse hooked me up to the EKG and printed out the results, she grabbed the paper and left the room and closed the curtain. We heard the cardiologist say,"this is the worst EKG I've ever seen". Im thinking wow this is really bad. 

I was then quickly taken to an operating room where the cardiologist stuck a camera into the artery in my groin and looked around my arteries. I was awake the whole time and it was pretty uncomfortable. He found that I had an aneurism of my aorta right above the valve at the top of my heart. when he finished I was being wheeled to ICU and suddenly I couldn’t breath, the nurse told me to relax and of course I didn’t relax because I really couldn’t breath.

I got to the ICU and was given oxygen which helped but I still was having a hard time breathing. I stayed this way for a few days and continued getting weaker. my lungs were filling up with fluid and slowly I was suffocating to death. The doctor asked if they could intubate me so a machine could breath for me. i agreed and they put me to sleep and had a machine breathing for me. The doctors wanted to do surgery on my aorta but they were afraid I would die because of my lungs so they waited to see if I was going to get stronger so they could fix my aorta.

After 3 days like this the surgeon said enough is enough, without surgery I was going to die. I was transported by ambulance to another hospital where there was an operating room set up specially for the type surgery I needed. The nurse who was caring for me in the ICU asked if she could go in the ambulance with me and continue caring for me until I reached the other hospital. On the way to the hospital I stopped breathing and the nurse had to breathe for me the whole 30 minute ride. I am sure without her I would have died.

This is when things went crazy. I was rushed into surgery and lucky me this is when I decided to wake up. I opened my eyes and saw a huge light above me and two people on each side of me dressed in operating scrubs. One of them took a scalpel and cut my chest open which hurt like hell. I was horrified and I was paralyzed. I had no recollection of being sick or of being in a hospital. All I knew was that I was being tortured. He then started to saw my sternum and thankfully that’s where my memory of this stops.

I was in surgery for ten hours. I was hooked up to a heart lung machine which cooled and oxygenated my blood. I then was clinically dead, no heartbeat, no brain activity. The doctors found that my aorta had ruptured some time between when I left the first hospital and when they opened my chest. The rupture destroyed my aorta and the valve on the top of my heart. My aorta was replaced with a synthetic aorta and a mechanical heart valve was installed.

After the surgery I was sent to the ICU and my family  waited to see if I would live or die. Each time they tried to wake me up I would flip out and try pulling the tube out of my throat. They had to use leg restraints on my arms because I broke the arm restraints. What the doctors didn’t know was that I still didn’t know where I was, I had begun to think that I was a prisoner and that I was being tortured. Every time they woke me up they would  be yelling at me to squeeze their hand or move my toes. I refused to do what they  were asking me to do so they thought I had had a stroke because I was unresponsive.

After a week the doctor said they needed to pull the breathing tube and wake me up. I was either going to breathe on my own or I would die. When I woke up I saw the doctor standing over me and I saw my wife smiling at me. I needed to tell her that this man was bad but I couldn’t talk so I punched the doctor. Luckily I was so weak that I couldn’t hurt him. Slowly the nurses and my wife explained to me what I had gone through and my fear left me. 

The next day I asked my wife to scratch my foot and I couldn’t feel her scratching. When the surgeon cut my groin to hook up the heart lung machine he was in a hurry and he damaged the nerve to my right leg. Over the next 24 hours the sensation in my foot went from not being able to feel anything to hypersensitivity. On a 1-10 pain scale it was a 30. I had never felt anything hurt so bad.

Overall I spent 3 weeks in the ICU and 2 more weeks at a therapy hospital. My chest never hurt me a bit. The only time it was uncomfortable was when I coughed or sneezed but the pain in my leg was horrible. After I left the therapy hospital I was able to walk with a walker. I did 6 weeks of outpatient therapy and after that I was able to walk with a cane. 

Its now almost 2 years since my surgery and I can almost walk normally. The pain in my leg is still pretty bad but I continue to improve slowly. I am no longer weak. I spent a loot of time in the gym lifting weights and getting stronger. Depression has been a huge factor during my recovery and they say I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, gee I wonder why? Hehe My heart is doing great, sometimes my heartbeat gets a bit wonkey but that happens rarely now. I have finished all my classes and will soon be a high school mathematics teacher.

I thank God every day for the good people who cared for me when I was dying. There have been a lot of people who have told me to sue the hospital because of the pain in my leg. I tell them, “What kind of a man would I be if I sued the people who saved my life?” Its been one hell of a journey!

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  • Posted

    Bill!!...you were "willed" to live!!...That is quite the journey you went through!!  Glad you made it!

    Thankfully my "thoracic aortic arch aneurysm" did NOT rupture !...but it got to be the size of a grapefruit before it was discovered.  

    I'm 60 yrs on June 10th and I had a "scheduled" surgical repair of a congenital 'coarctation of the aorta with an additional anomaly of an aberrant origin of the Right Subclavian Artery...forty years ago on my 19th birthday....it was only discovered six months before that surgery...I lived with it from birth, sooo I guess I didn't know "normal."...Thorough check ups are sooo important and can be as simple as MAKING SURE TO CHECK THE BLOOD PRESSURE IN BOTH ARMS....at least that was my situation....they were very different.  

    How did I manage to make it to 18??...I wasn't very active in any school sports and I was considered lazy..slept a lot after anything physically demanding for my arteries...I had low blood pressure in my right arm( where the arm cuff was usually applied at the doctor's office)...the circulation supply after the "narrowing" was very weak...there was no palpable pulses from the groin level and downwards to my feet.  The blood supply to my left arm & head was high pressure ...it was before the narrowing and over 18 yrs caused an enlargement of my left carotid artery and a protruding vein, which caught my dad's eye ...he had me checked...and so thanks to my observant dad...it changed my life and how I lived it...it was open repair...because they didn't have Endovascular surgery then...in 1974 for this... I was not put on drugs because I didn't have any heart damage....

    i felt my feet pulsing...just laying in bed after the surgery! ...in Toronto, Canada.  I became an avid cyclist, cross country skier, jogger, roller blader/ skater...racquetball/squash...I still had headaches...not sure why...perhaps because the left carotid was enlarged the right one was barely functioning..smaller and tortuous in shape ...

    Anyway, forty years later...I had ten years of inactivity...caregiving a loved one and didn't Followup with doc visits...I am SURE, a particular incident whereby I lugged a very heavy exercise machine up about a dozen steps from my basement BY MYSELF, like a fool...by the time I got near the landing, I was hearing a rather loud knocking....thinking someone was pounding at my door, when I realized it was me ....I immediately stopped and waited for the sound to subside and then I really went slow the last couple of steps....it was most terrifying and I've never heard it again like that...I'm sure I caused a tear...because I was okay a few years before that...I was caregiving and too busy to look after myself.( 2006)....2009 my husband passed away from complications related to Parkinson's, and  I started decluttering my house in 2010, BIGTIME plus helping a friend (from a support network)  in Dallas, Texas declutter his friend's hoarded home!...

    3-4 years of coughing that I thought I received from all the dust etc.got worse to the point that I was experiencing laryngitis EVERYTIME I'd try to have a conversation with even my own family and friends!  I finally found a new doctor where I'd moved and after numerous tests on January 6th, I was 

    Diagnosed to my surprise, with this huge aneurysm sac pressing on the nerves for my vocal chords and on my esophagus...( I had felt at times like I was having difficulty swallowing or I'd have the sensation that there was something obstructive( I had feared cancer...didn't suspect an aneurysm!)..

    it had developed over the same location where I had surgery before...

    The docs were afraid of rupture....it was over 8cm..I was shovelling snow!!

    noooo lifting anything over ten lbs!...I was afraid to move ...until I was operated on...March 3rd 2014! In the same hospital in Toronto...it was an 11hr successful surgery...two phase...because one part was open surgery at the neck level/  re connecting  both subclavian arteries from my arms  (which were sitting on top of the aneurysm ) directly to my left and right carotids at neck level.  Then they miraculously deployed a custom low profile stent via Endovascular Surgery....and that was that!!

    i was on Betablockers for awhile...but stopped six mths later because my blood pressure was too low...and I was getting virtigo and cross-eyed visions ...I still get virtigo at times but not near as much...I'm back riding my bike but I can't help wondering about the stent...we're the guinea pigs!  We will be testimonial for time will tell after we make it to ten years post surgical!!

    What do you do for relief for your leg/foot pain ??

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    • Posted

      Wow it sounds like you have been in quite a journey yourself!!

      The leg/foot pain has been really hard to deal with. I take gabapentin and traumadol for the nerve pain and also take Vicodin a few times a day. It seems the pain gets really bad just before it gets better. I walk a lot and just try to teach my brain not to interpret all input as severe pain. It is improving but it's slow going. April 20th was two year anniversary of my surgery. For the most part my heart and chest have been trouble free. It's the leg pain that is a result of the surgeon having to rush to save my life.

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  • Posted

    Wow, William, you are very blessed to be alive.  Thanks for sharing all the painful details.  Ascending Aortic dissections don't usually turn out so well.  Did they ever explain why you woke up in surgery? You children and close relatives are being screened for this, right?  smile  Sounds like aneurysms may be a genetic thing for your family.  All the best and congrats on your Math degree!
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    • Posted

      I was never told why I woke up during surgery. I believe it was because of the rush the surgeons were in to save my life. No one expected me to survive so seconds counted. I think something as insignificant as one of my nurses calling in sick would have meant my death. I love going back to the intensive care unit and bringing my nurses flowers every few months. I owe them my life. I will never be able to repay their kindness, their concern, and their professionalism.

      I have two sons 15, and 21 who have both been screened for aneurysm and so far so good. They will be tested every year because I believe you are right and it is a weakness in our genetic code.

      The math degree will come in very handy. I can't wait for I teach the kids in my community. I can't physically handle standing on my leg for eight hours a day yet but I'll get there.

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  • Posted

    The pain must be difficult--I've seen people I love deal with that on a daily basis and it's so hard--but the important thing is you are alive and able to be with your family.  That is a gift from the Great Physician.  There is always hope when He is involved.  smile  Take care, Jill 
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  • Posted

    I agree with Pawstruck Jill, I am still "awestruck" as no doubt in my mind that YOU will be, always, with the entire events leading up to the life-saving surgery(including, remembering your Mum's very similar situation!)   ...and yes, thanks for sharing the "painful" details, indeed.  

    I just wanted to share with you and everyone, the meaning of your name...

    "...William is a name with English origins. The meaning of the name William is strong-willed warrior...

    William is the English version of the German Wilhelm. Common nicknames for the name William include Will and Bill. Other nicknames include Willy, Billy, and Liam; William is often abbreviated as Wm...."

    AND  you are indeed, strong-Willed....!

    I'm new to these forums and with the order of how to continue discussions..


    Pawstruck reminded me of the key word in your situation...." Aortic Dissection"...AND the seriousness of the location of your "ascending aortic " anomaly....ohhh, and I misspelled, "vertigo"....

    My second operation was to deal with an acquired aneurysm in the same location as my previous surgery, 40 yrs ago....in the aortic arch ....before the "descending" aorta....in the thoracic "chest" cavity.... One of the surgeons in my more recent op, sent for a pathological testing of a punched arterial tissue sample from my Carotid A. to rule out any Connective Tissue Disorders..  

    Last and certainly not least...is as Jill points out, is to have familial &/or genetic  testing for those family members, close to you...

    I include a "safe" routine of yoga in my life now; it was a recommended part of my Cardiac Rehab, which helps with my breathing, blood pressure and my postures in my daily activities....

    sooo I say to you...your wife and to "all" the Professionals that saved your life...God Bless...& 

    Namaste! William...

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