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Survivor Story Featuring Tom Swanson

Story of Tom Swanson’s Acute Ascending Aortic Dissection Type 1 dissection of ascending aorta.

Tom and Michele live a very active lifestyle in Sarasota, Florida including golf, hiking, swimming and weightlifting.  We always thought we were healthy and active seniors until Aortic Dissection happened without warning.

On March 8, 2023, Tom went to the gym and before returning home he stopped at the store.

As he was checking out of the store, he felt a sudden excruciating pain between his shoulder blades with tremendous chest pressure, difficulty breathing, and he felt faint.  He proceeded to the parking lot and was so lightheaded and in pain he laid down on the walkway to the parking area.  I was coincidentally calling his cell phone to see where he was, and he described what was happening.   During the conversation he was able to get to his car and turn on the AC and felt a bit better.

Agreeing that he might be having heart failure I went to get him, but Tom was able to make it to an EMS rescue station where they proceeded to take Tom by ambulance to the local Sarasota Memorial ER.  After a very long 7 hours in ER and 4 CT scans later it was determined by the ER doctor that Tom had a very fatal Acute Aortic Dissection, and he was not to move.  He further explained that Tom needed emergency surgery to try to save his life and because of the severity of the situation he would need to be transported by Helicopter to a hospital that specialized in Aortic Dissection.  

Tom was transported to University of Florida Medical Center in Gainesville, FL.  As Tom was loaded onto the helicopter the doctor advised me that it was very possible that Tom would not make it and that I should proceed to the hospital urgently. The hospital in Gainesville was a 3-hour drive from Sarasota.  Tom was already in surgery when I arrived.

Miraculously, Tom made it to the hospital and was greeted on the helipad by a team of doctors and led by our wonderful surgeon, Dr. Eric Jeng, Thoracic Surgeon at UF. Tom’s medical emergency began with a tear that started in the first part of the aorta closest to the heart.  The surgeon used a surgical graft to replace the first part of the aorta or Total Arch.

Next the surgeon used a new FDA trial approved device called an AMDS.  This device is constructed of a wire braided stent which is attached to a short graft component made of felt.  The stent expands the inner wall of the aorta and the felt is sewn to the surgical graft to keep the stent in place.  The AMDS was implanted and expands thereby holding the aorta open and pushes the dissected layers back into place to allow blood flow through the aorta and its branches.  

It has been 4 months since Tom's surgery, and he is recovering well. He is adjusting to his medications and his daily exercise routine to help him regain his strength. He has atrial fibrillation as a result of the open-heart surgery and will undergo a cardiac catheterization for a blocked artery. The cardiologist and surgeon continue to monitor his descending aorta and the dissection which continues to be shredded. Tom is participating in the AMDS study and therefore is monitored every several months and will participate for the next 5 years. We hope that this device will be successful and allow other patients the opportunity to live a full life!

We are very blessed that Tom has survived such a horrific disease. He is currently undergoing genetic testing, but we are very surprised at how long it took the medical staff to identify the symptoms and we want to help spread awareness of this fatal disease.

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