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Survivor Story of Nicole Pranzo

My name is Nicole Pranzo and I survived a Type A Aortic dissection on February 11, 2021.

I woke up a later than normal due to to a little bit of snowfall, thankfully just enough to cause a delayed opening for school. Little did know that this little snowfall would be enough to save my life.

Due to the delayed opening, me, my high school age son, and my husband were still home. Normally we would all have been out the door and, on the way to work or school by 7:30am. But on this day, I was taking my time getting ready and finishing up some last-minute details for our trip to Aruba that we were scheduled to take the very next day. As I was getting ready to leave for work, I bent over to get my shoes and felt as if I was going to pass out. My right arm went numb, and I could hardly speak. I thought I called out to my son for help, but the words never came out.

Just around that time my husband happened to come into the kitchen and noticed that I was lying down and making a mumbling sound. At first he tried sitting me up, but I had no control of my body, I was limp. I remember him calling my name, but I couldn’t respond. He immediately called 9-1-1 because he thought I was having a heart attack. While he was on the phone with the dispatcher I began vomiting. I didn’t lose consciousness, but I was unresponsive at times.

Due to the inclement weather the ambulance and the police took over 20 minutes to arrive. I can’t imagine what my husband and my son must have been going through while waiting for help to arrive. It must have felt like an eternity for them. When I arrived at the ER, my husband was not allowed to come in with me due to COVID - 19 protocols. The first responders thought I was having a stroke because my right arm was cold and starting to turn blue, but thankfully the ER doctor was not convinced that this was the proper diagnosis! He immediately ordered a CT scan of my chest which revealed that I was in fact having a type A aortic dissection. At this time the hospital called my husband to let him know what was wrong, and that they would need to fly me to South Shore University Hospital in Bayshore NY for the emergency surgery that I required. They also allowed him to come back to say goodbye to me. I remember him being there and telling me everything was going to be ok. I can’t imagine how he must have felt as I was being brought out to the helicopter, and the fear of never seeing me again. I don’t remember much of that helicopter ride. I remember the noise, and I remember feeling scared, but I knew I was in good hands.

Once we landed, the cardio thoracic team was ready to go. They led me directly into operating room that was prepped and ready for my arrival. I only found out a few weeks after the surgery that they had to bring my body temperature down and cut off the blood supply to my brain while they repaired the tear in my aortic root and repaired my aortic valve. The surgery took almost 6 hours and when the surgeon called my husband, he explained that the surgery went well but he couldn’t be sure if I would have any cognitive deficits or use of my right arm when I woke up. The surgeon gave instructions to my husband about what to expect and gave him the phone number of the nurse that he should call throughout the night. To my surprise and to my family’s delight the I was Face Timing with my family at 6:15 am the very next day.

It had been less than 24 hours and our lives had been changed forever. I should’ve been on a plane to Aruba, but I was happier just to be alive and able to talk to my husband and children again. At that time, I didn’t understand the magnitude of what had happened, or that I had come so close to dying. I stayed in the hospital for 7 days, which was very lonely since there were no visitors allowed because of COVID. My recovery at home went well, I have my family and friends to thank for that.

We have since found out from genetic testing that I have variant to the FBN1 gene that may have caused the dissection due to having weak artery structure. My children will have to be closely monitored now, as well as my siblings and their children. I often think about why this happened to me and what it means to be in this special group of survivors. I am not sure I know the answer to that yet. I guess that I am just grateful to be alive and to have survived to share my story so that I may be of help to someone else.

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