Thursday, April 25, 2013

Aorta Dissectes Unexpectedly, My Near Death Experience

Unexpectedly on November 29, 2011 my aorta dissected all the way from the valve in my heart up over the arch, down through my abdomen into my renal arteries, following my right iliac artery through my pelvic area into my leg and ending in my foot.  One great big ripping tear.

Home alone that evening with no one to turn to except for our dog, Lily, I had no idea what was happening as the initial acute momentous pain began to change into a deep chronic hurt after about ten minutes.  Walking into the master bedroom I sat down on the edge of the bed, slowly lowering myself back across the top quilt, hoping I was imagining the whole episode, not accepting the fact that control of my body was no longer mine, nor recognizing I had finally hurtled into a really big brick wall.

There was little doubt in my mind something bad was happening inside my chest.  My back felt as though it was being plummeted with a heavy wooden baseball bat, the bottom of my left jaw badly ached, I was dizzy and experiencing an intense headache.

For a brief moment I smiled, exhaling out an ever so slight chuckle, watching the slow spinning ceiling fan seemingly pull me into what I was imaging to be a long, dark vortex.   Day-dream like hypnotic trances are sometimes difficult to shake.  Traveling down into the swirl almost seemed like a relief, an opportunity to explore something different.  But my will to live has always been strong.  I set up and holding onto the edge of the bed and then the walls, moved out of the bedroom, down the hall into the kitchen where the Honda keys were hanging on the wall key bracket.

Four miles away stood the Memorial Hospital complex on the corner of Beach Blvd and University Drive.  Taking the first step out the door was becoming more difficult with each tick of the wall clock and I knew if I stayed at home Judy would probably find me cold lying stretched across the bed the next day.  I reached for the Honda keys.

Flipping on the back porch light, I stepped out and filled Lily's water and dog food bowl, telling her I'd be back soon.

The back route through the neighborhood was uneventful. Winter's stars twinkled brilliantly high in the sky.  Cool night air flowing through the half rolled down drivers door window temporarily renewed my labored breathing, lifting my spirit.  Praying for God to save me, I suspected a heart attack though could not reason how or why.

The trip to Memorial only took five precious minutes yet during those five ticks around the clock's face much of my adult life flashed back through my thoughts.

In my haste to fly through life I was truly neglecting my body's real needs.  In my rush to become the American success story I ended up deceiving myself into believing all the limited diet and intense exercise efforts were good for my body when in fact I was actually destroying it.

A twenty five pound dumbbell had for the longest time sat by the back door.  Each time I came into or left the house I'd pump the iron over my head believing the anaerobic muscle building would provide long term benefits.  After a bout with colon cancer in my early fifties I'd implemented a high fiber diet, daily partaking of the garden fresh hummus I'd make every day or so.

We cooked solely with olive oil and I believed the virgin liquid was going to be a major reason for my personal long term cardiovascular health.

Hard physical labor was no stranger to our household.  Judy was always working in the backyard vegetable garden.  I had just finished a marvelous green roof where I literally carried two tons of planting media up stairs, on my back, to the roof.  I looked good and felt even better.  Florida Trend magazine had just published an article on the trend setting Breaking Ground Contracting living roof.

Yet other issues were silently eating away at my body.

Physical, mental and emotional stress fed hypertension.  Each uptick in systolic or diastolic compromised bit by bit those hidden flaws in my Marfan body's arterial elasticity and cardiovascular structure.

But now, pulling into the Memorial Hospital's quiet parking lot, the truth shown brighter than the eerily buzzing tall evening halogen lights.  All the hurtling forward at breath-taking speeds through time and space to make a living, raise a family and get things done had really only shortened my life.

Unfortunately I pulled the Honda into the parking garage located at the far end of the health campus from the emergency room.  Always know where you should park with respect to the location of your local hospital's emergency room.  Trial runs in the car are a good idea before you find yourself in need to really seek emergency services.

I never figured out why 911 and an ambulance ride was not my first choice.  Perhaps my decision to drive was a subconscious decision consistent with stubborn attitude of doing everything myself.  Family 911 drills, without of course actually calling 911, are also probably a good idea.

The walk to the emergency room was slow and painful.  So many times I wanted to sit down and rest yet I kept walking, knowing that as soon as I sat down the end would come.  Turning another building corner the bright neon ER lights loomed just ahead and as I approached the automatic sliding doors a wave of relief flowed around and over me.

The nurse stationed behind the desk later told my wife I appeared white as a sheet, and barely speaking, clasping my chest, telling them I suspected a heart attack.  Memorial Hospital's staff on call that night included a young surgeon, Dr. Nathan Bates and his team and a CT scan quickly told them about my acute root to foot aortic dissection.

Hospital staff called Judy and began prepping me for surgical replacement of the aortic valve with a St. Jude mechanical device and then removal of the dissected ascending aortic arch and replacement with a Dacron graft.

During the eight hour surgery my heart was put on bypass and body temperature lowered to thirty four degrees fahrenheit.  Any doubts of life after death vanished once the operation was complete and deemed a success.  As I lay practically lifeless on the operating table my spirit, in very tangible form and awareness floated in the air above the doctors and nurses.  Cloaked in what I can only describe as immense love and comfort, the thoracic surgeon's procedure below was clearly visible.  I wasn't carrying anything with me that I'd accumulated in life and I wasn't even concerned much too much about anything I'd left behind.  I was very focused on the present moment and the pervasive loving warmth filling my new body.

Yet I only had a disconnected interest in the operation on my human body.  I was more curious of my new body, a spiritual body but one that was very real.  Immediately I knew that I'd be returning to the prostrate human form laying on the table.  Floating in the room my spiritual body kept bumping into the ceiling and floating back down towards my human form until I could move back away once more.  Hovering above the surgical team a brief wave of disappointment filled my thoughts.  Continuing the afterlife journey was not an option for me.  If I was supposed to die then I would have been able to move through the ceiling and on along my journey.

The warmth of eternal love held me throughout the entire procedure and in the end stood in stark contrast to waking up in the recovery room only to throw up volumes of fluid all over my chest.  Barfing never felt so good.

Subsequent to the initial operation my Dacron graft became infected with some type of unidentifiable fungus and I experienced holes in my chest, wound vacs taped to my chest, months of a pick line and daily IV antibiotic and antifungal sessions, additional surgeries to remove infections from around my heart, a permanently unstable sternum and an inoperable dissected descending aorta reaching into my renal and iliac arteries down to my foot.

We think we are boss of our cardiovascular system and for that matter most all other aspects of our physical body.  I know I did.  We imagine we can tell the body to do this and do that and to regenerate each time we are dietarily or lifestyle abusive.  We wrongly assume complete control over our body and think we know all things about how our bodies function when in fact only our sensory processes gives us a limited window of knowledge into our human functioning.

Our arteries may clog completely while we are unaware of the damage until an ischemic event.  Cancer may inflict many of our organs before we know of its' presence.  Alzheimer disease may establish a foothold in our brains many years prior to us exhibiting the first symptom of dementia.  On the grand scale of body knowledge, most of us really know very little.  'Out of sight, out of mind' has become our officially unrecognized health status motto.

All the diet and exercise improvements I had implemented over the previous few years were noble attempts to heal.  But the were too little and way too late.  I really wish I this blog had been available to me fifteen or twenty years ago.  Had I listened to my own words I plant to share here over time then maybe some of the pain could have been avoided.

Ted Rhodes, RN, was my home health care nurse and the person who saved my life by realizing the throbbing red knot on my chest was a serious infection and sent me to the surgeon's office.  Ted, though I'll never know if he seriously believed I'd heal or was just trying to be encouraging, one day told me that I'd be at the beach with my one more after healing progressed.  His much needed encouragement that day was one of the reasons I began to believe in the possibility of healing.

Today my hope is that by freely sharing the experiences I encountered, I might inspire others to embark on a an adventure of cardiovascular health.  Otherwise preventable chronic illnesses can turn an enjoyable middle or elder age into absolute misery.  Integrating a new life adventure, good food and peaceful spirituality can transform pain into supple, youthful bliss.   Follow my progress here and feel free to share your experiences too.  Life can be way too short.  Cardiovascular health is so important.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Reduce Blood Pressure & Aorta Dissection Occurence with Watermelon

Over time we will blog here about how many foods affect blood pressure.  Of course, the higher the systolic and diastolic readings, the more likely a myocardial infarction, ischemic event or dissection can occur.

Watermelon is easy to grow and supports cardiovascular health!

Keeping blood pressure below 120/ 70 should be a priority!  I like to see mine run 110/60, especially  with Marfan Syndrome and a completely dissected descending aorta.

Of course medications always help to keep blood pressure low, but I have found that by including watermelon in my diet it is much easier to reach those target metrics.  This is especially helpful if I am traveling and end up eating more processed or salty foods than I'd like to.

Besides, there is nothing better than an ice cold slice or chunk of watermelon.  Good for the kidneys too!

Check out an article about Florida State University's research into how watermelon reduces blood pressure here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Marfan Syndrome, Physical Characteristics in the Family

The photo here shows my two wonderful teenage children, one in college already and the other active in High School.  According to the last echo-cardiogram both of their aortas are already beginning to dilate.

Marfan Syndrome physical characteristics
As a child I too was tall and lanky, with long fingers, long arms and legs and a thin-skinny build.  Though these physical characteristics are not always indicative of Marfan Syndrome, they may be.

I am glad that we now know of the connective tissue issues our family members experience.  Knowledge is important.  Understanding and tracking health issues associated with Marfan Syndrome can save lives.  Whereas I never know I had connective tissue problems until  my aorta dissected, we know the kids have these issues and we can address them before acute problems arise.

Some of the symptoms I regularly experienced as a child included; sprained wrists and ankles, collapsed arches, pulled back muscles, multiple hernia surgeries, stomach hernias and then finally a completely dissected and aneurysed aorta.

The National Marfan Foundation website is an excellent place to learn more about this health issue.

Education about the medical issues associated with Marfan is critically important.  Know what resources are available to help you or others who may suffer from potentially life threatening health problems arising from Marfan related problems.

I'll be posting more soon about my unexpected aortic dissection and how I've coped and what I hope to do, as my primary care physician says is my 'full time business' - to stay alive.