Updated: Jun 19, 2021
Prashant Navaratnarajah Age: 38 – 12 days between misdiagnosis and operation
I have always been into health and fitness from a very young age because my dad passed away of what we thought was a heart attack at the age of 30 (just a month after I turned 1). Heart health was always in the back of my mind and I was always researching various health and heart related things to try and make sure I didn’t end up like my dad.
Nearly a year ago on Monday May 27th, 2019 I was in the best shape of my life. I did my normal exercise routine of 30 minutes on my exercise bike first thing in the morning and then the gym in the late afternoon. I have been consistently going to the gym for the last 20 years, and was working out to a weight routine created by my personal trainer and nutritionist. Near the end of my work-out I laid chest down on a machine when I felt a pop deep in the middle of my chest. I stood up and felt a bit dizzy and had strange feeling at the top of my left leg. I sat down and I phoned my wife, slurring my words while I was speaking. She told me to get to the hospital immediately and that she would meet me there. I was able to drive myself to the hospital, and by the time I got there I had lost most of the feeling in my left leg.
I explained my family history to the A&E (Accident & Emergency) staff that something serious was happening and that I was either having a heart attack or a stroke. They took my blood pressure on one arm and did an ECG (EKG) and said everything was fine and that my ECG was “textbook perfect”. Despite me stressing the fact I had lost all feeling in my left leg and I had a lot of tightness in my chest the Doctor explained it as a pulled chest muscle and a sprained hamstring. I explained to him that we were due to go on holiday the next morning and they assured me it was fine to go.
The next morning, I was still in excruciating pain and could only walk a few meters at a time, but we flew to Germany anyway. During the four days we were in Germany I could only walk a few meters before having to stop or sit down. Because I’d been told by the hospital my heart was fine, I continued to believe that I just had a really bad sprain, and even found a place to give my hamstring a sport massage. We landed back in the UK on Friday May 31st, and the next day I was still in so much pain that I drove myself to get another sports massage as my leg.
On Monday 3rd June, I walked my son to school as I always had which is less than 10 mins away. I could only make it halfway there before I got out of breath and had to stop because my left leg was just dragging behind me. My wife was just on her way to work, so she came to get me and dropped me back at home along with my 10-month-old who I had been pushing along in the stroller. When I got home, I called my doctor and explained what had happened and that it had been 7 days and I still was not any better. She asked if I could walk over to come see her (we lived a 5-6 min walk away). It took me more than 15 mins to push the stroller and get to the doctor’s office.
I explained what had happened over the past week since I felt the initial pain in my chest. The doctor requested I go to the hospital to get a D-dimer blood test to see if that would show any trauma to the body, so that if necessary, they could investigate. I took my son and daughter with me to the hospital to get the blood test, and then came home. About an hour later the doctor called saying that my test results were very high and it was possible that I had a blood clot which could be the reason my left leg was numb and why I was finding it so hard to breathe. She asked me to go to the pharmacy to get a prescription, and to take the medication in-case it was a blood clot, and even if it wasn’t it would be ok for me to take.
I drove to the pharmacy and was just about to pay for the prescription when the doctor called again telling me to leave the prescription and go to the hospital instead for more tests. I drove myself back to my local hospital that evening, where over the next few days I had various scans, X-rays and tests as they still thought it was a blood clot. The clot was ruled out, but they discovered I had fluid in my lungs, so continued to monitor me and request more tests. On the afternoon of Wednesday June 5th (9 days after I first went to the hospital after the gym) the doctors performed an ultrasound which revealed that I had suffered a Type A Aortic Dissection and could not believe that I was still alive and relatively well. In a split second I had gone from walking around my hospital room, to not even being allowed to stand up on my own. That evening I was transferred to St. Bart’s Hospital in London where they monitored me and planned for my surgery.
On Friday June 7th (12 days after my aortic dissection occurred) I had a 12-hour open heart surgery which consisted of an aortic root and arch replacement, a mechanical aortic valve, and a FET repair to descending aorta. The doctors discovered that I also suffered a rupture to the left Iliac artery (the artery that supplies the blood to the left leg) and a rupture to the right common artery (the artery that supplies the blood to the right-side of the head). The doctors were amazed at how well I was recovering in hospital (something I believe was largely due to my health and fitness levels) and I was discharged from the hospital just 7 days after my surgery and returned home where I continued to recover and began looking after my own business again.
It was not until after my surgery that I found out my dad’s sister had also suffered a Type A dissection less than a year before me. It’s unfortunate that I will never actually know why my father passed away so young, but we now believe it was also due to an aortic dissection.
I am extremely thankful to Professor Oo and the whole team at St Bart’s Hospital for their knowledge of my condition and the efforts they made to save me. In the months since my dissection I have continued to research aortic dissections and other similar heart conditions and have found support through Facebook groups and pages like Aortic Hope, Think Aorta US, Aortic Dissection UK/Buddies, young people with heart conditions are all full of support and information. The John Ritter Foundation and the research they do is phenomenal. I’m now working with them (as well as London hospitals) to carry out genetic testing on myself and my dad’s side of the family to ensure that my children and future generations can avoid the trauma that I’ve had to endure.
Although from the outside I may look “recovered”, I am still continuing to recover a year later. And like everyone who goes through such a trauma will know, most people will not be able to relate to the what you have been through. But it’s the people around me and the support I get that gets me through each day. Take each day at a time and enjoy life, and most importantly stay positive!