Aortic dissection survivor had luck on his side
He collapsed in a carpark and fought to remain conscious. What followed was a series of fortunate events that helped save his life. This is Bill’s story in his words.
I am a 59 year-old equine veterinarian. I went to work on Tuesday 12 July 2016, arriving at the clinic at 8am. I felt good and arranged a few things.
I was due to go with Tracey, a fellow veterinarian, to see a major client at 9am. However, my phone calls were taking time so Tracey went ahead and I said I would meet her there.
I finished my last call at around 8.50am and was walking towards my car in the car park when suddenly it was as if someone had stuck a tomahawk in my back and was grabbing my throat.
I made it to the driver’s seat of my car and thought “I need help”. The pain was easing, but I felt wobbly and weak and was not thinking clearly.
"I do remember the surgeon telling me how I had been so very close to dying."
I attempted to make it to the clinic building (should have just tooted my car horn!) but ended up collapsing. I was able to control my fall as I didn’t pass out, but was unable to get up and grazed my forehead and temple attempting to do so.
This is when my first piece of luck came into play. One of our nurses had to come up unexpectedly from the surgery down the back and, in doing so, discovered me. I think it was just after 9am...
An ambulance was called and seemed to arrive in no time at all – another stroke of luck. Emma (the practice manager and my daughter) was a champion, remaining calm and organised throughout.
Within a few minutes it seemed she had Jane (my wife) and most of the family there. The ambulance officers were great and stabilised me as well as they could. They were puzzled that my ECG was pretty much normal.
We set off for Waikato Hospital with Jane in the ambulance and Emma and Adam (son in law) following. I felt terrible but not in pain, just like a lump of lead. I was sure I was dying but was determined not to.
The third piece of good luck came in the form of a new bypass road which meant we were able to get to hospital much quicker; and the fourth was being greeted with an ambulance dispatched from Hamilton with an intensive care paramedic on board. We stopped and the paramedic hopped into our ambulance.
It seemed to me she knew it was an issue with the aorta (split) and she radioed ahead to Waikato Hospital which enabled them to clear an operating theatre and prepare it for me. Some poor bloke had his elective surgery delayed, but surgery for me was vital for survival. All my thoughts were put into staying awake and making it to that surgery for a chance.
Once we arrived at the hospital I was rushed through a CT scan, x-ray, ultrasound and blood tests. I was lucky again in that there was a top team of cardiac surgeons available. I went into surgery about 12.30-1pm to have a Type A aortic dissection repair and an aortic valve replacement. Jane et al had been told it would be the most difficult of surgeries and would take at least eight hours and up to 15+ hours.
There was a huge risk associated with it, but without it death was certain. Adam rang my daughter Alice who was in Sydney and she booked the first available flight. Apparently when they opened me up even the surgeons were surprised with the amount of blood that spurted out.
About six-and-a-half hours later Jane received a call from the surgeon to say their work was done and to head back to the hospital in an hour or two.
Once all the family arrived to hospital, they were informed that there was concern over the amount of blood coming out of the chest drain. The surgeons were called and after some time it was decided to open me back up. They were concerned with the amount of blood clots around the heart (cardiac tamponade). Luckily for me, I was still anaesthetised. They removed over a litre of blood clots in a surgery which finished at about 4am. It was a long and late night for everyone.
The next three or four days were spent in the Intensive Care Unit and the Emergency Response Unit and are a blur only. I do remember the surgeon telling me how I had been so very close to dying. I am told by family that I was very professionally cared for, as indeed I was for the whole of my stay. Thank you so much to all concerned and the staff in Ward 14.
I was discharged a week later after another CT scan and other tests and have spent the last few weeks at home healing and recovering.
Tiredness sets in often. I have been walking on the treadmill and doing everything I’ve been told to do and have had three checks with the GP. I’ve also been back for a check-up with the surgeon who seems happy with my progress. I will need regular monitoring in the future.
Once again I must express my sincere gratitude to all concerned, and especially my family for being a wonderful support all the way through. Events like this are awfully hard on those you love, but their support is hugely appreciated.
Written September 2016