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Survivor Story from Kurt Zivelonghi

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

This story is the experience I had when I suffered a type B aortic dissection in June of 2018. It’s not a complete story, because many more things happened to me when I went through this ordeal, but this a compressed version so that I don’t go and on. I think it is very important for people to hear about what happens to an individual when this catastrophic event happens to them. I hope this this story will shed light on this terrible disease so that much research can be done to fight this malady.

It all started when I was watching TV. I bent over to look at my computer, and then this searing pain, that felt like someone was taking a knife and slicing me up the middle into my chest, it struck me.

At first, I thought that I may have strained a muscle because I was into working-out with weights but after a few minutes of this pain I knew something was terribly wrong. I had this instinctive feeling that I couldn’t wait for an ambulance, so I took myself to the hospital which was only a few miles away. I knew exactly where it was because it was right next to my bank.

When I got to the hospital, and ran into the Emergency Department, I told them my symptoms. The nurses asked me all these questions about my pain, on a scale from 0 to 10 how severe was it and if I felt any nausea. I told them it was the worst pain that I ever felt. They rushed me into this side room.

After some tests, they told me that my aorta was splitting apart, and I knew that having an aorta splitting apart is a serious situation. They gave me some morphine and prepared me to be transferred to another hospital which had a heart specialty facility. When I arrived at the hospital, I was immediately put in cardiac Intensive Care Unit, where I spent a few days talking to the nurses and family members.

After about the second day, I fell into a coma. All I remember are these weird dreams. First what I remember is falling through the sky from 74,000 feet and slamming down on a beach on my left arm and having it feel numb. I remember in my “dreams” or delusions, was the nurses making me stand up and having me sit in this chair. I dreamt that I was in the hospital because the government what implanting communication devices in me so that could be a “secret agent”. I dreamt that these ninja’s were after me with wives for hands.

Unbeknownst to me when I was in this coma I contracted ARDS and the Doctors had to intubate me All through this time of being intubated, I contracted pneumonia and had a fever where they had to put me in a cooling blanket and give me dialysis and ECMO. After about three weeks, I finally woke up; from gentle prodding by the nurses. Evidently, they wanted me to come out of the coma. What I heard was “Kurt time to get up” and them pulling at me to get me on my feet. They didn’t pull in a hard way, they were gentle with me.

After six weeks, I was finally released from Cardiac ICU and sent to physical rehabilitation for a week where I learned how to walk and swallow again.

I only realized the seriousness of my condition when I was transferred to rehabilitation hospital. A nurse was looking at my report from the prior hospital where I was treated for the dissection and she looked up at me from the report, with an astonished look on her face and said “you had an aortic dissection and you’re still alive,” I nodded my head in affirmation, then she said, “welcome back to the living glad to have you back”.

I was finally released to my brother’s care, where nurses came for two weeks and helped me get my physical abilities back and explained to me what happened to me. When I left rehab, the effects were that my left hand was paralyzed, I had depression and sundry other problems. after they gave me about 15 prescription drugs to take for my blood pressure and other problems.

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