It started out as an enjoyable and fun filled weekend at the family lake home in Crosslake, MN. Sunday, June 12th our lives took a pivot when that morning our mom, Carol, complained of chest, jaw and back pain. She said, "I think I'm having a heart attack". With a family history of heart disease and her 66 years of age, we knew to take it seriously. Mom has been very diligent about following a defective valve with her cardiologist.
Jeff called 911 and gave her a nitroglycerin and baby aspirin that he had on hand for his own heart condition. My nursing background makes me believe that may have saved her life. The nitro potentially lowered her blood pressure enough to avoid acute critical irreversible organ damage.
The paramedics took her to the nearest ER in Crosby, MN 25 miles away. Testing showed an aortic "tear" or Type A aortic dissection.
Aortic dissections are uncommon, yet they are highly lethal. If untreated, an aortic dissection can be fatal within the first 24 to 48 hours. It is a serious condition in which there is a tear in the interior wall layer of the major artery carrying blood out of the heart (aorta). As the tear extends along the wall of the aorta, blood can flow in between the layers of the blood vessel wall (dissection). This can lead to aortic rupture or decreased blood flow (ischemia) to organs.
Needless to say, everything immediately went into panic mode. A medical helicopter flew in from Brainerd and took Mom to Abbott Northwestern hospital in Minneapolis. As we frantically made our 3 hours drive to Abbott, my husband Dean was able to see Mom at the hospital before they rushed her into immediate surgery (Dean had not been in Crosslake with us).
The expected 4-6 hour surgery ended up taking over 7 hours. A very tired looking surgeon finally came to talk to us around 1:30am Monday morning. He told us he had to replace her aortic valve and repaired part of the aorta with Dacron mesh due to the aortic dissection. The cardiovascular surgeon said the damage was more extensive than anticipated, and although she fought through the surgery, in the coming days we should be prepared for the worst.
It was also at this time we learned her survival rate post-op is less than 30%. We need to fill in the other 70% with prayer.
Here's a short video regarding aortic dissection: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aortic_dissection