Updated: Feb 15, 2021
We would like to showcase a blog by a very special survivor, Shawn Fisher. You might not realize this but Shawn is the founder of a Facebook support page, Survivors of Aortic Dissection. This page was created in January of 2009. Since then, a few other support pages and non-profits have been created. This particular page, as well as Aortic Dissection Support Group, were founded and continue to be managed by SURVIVORS like YOU!!!
August 16, 2005 and I was working in my home office and had intense sharp pain in my neck. I ignored it and went on had more coffee. The pain become more intense and I started to go numb on the right side of my body, so I called my partner.
Being a nurse, I thought I was having a stroke. I planned my admission, selected the hospital I wanted to go to and had my partner take me to the ER.
Once I arrived at the Emergency Department at 11am that day their first thought was I was abusing drugs. This was because this was an inner-city ER and I was only 35 years old. I requested they run an ETOH and drug screen. 200pm the surgical resident dismissed my partner and told him to leave and get something to eat. “Nothing happening today, we don’t’ see anything wrong” was their response.
As the day progressed, I went into Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation- DIC. While bleeding from every orifice, I started to vomit clots, visible large clots. I called the nurses to my room and asked what they suggested I do with my lap full of clots. The nurses returned and took me for an EGD or scope of my throat or belly- “must be a varices” (swollen veins in the esophagus). Esophageal Varices is from alcoholism or repeated alcohol abuse. I told them repeatedly I was not a drinker.
The Gastroenterologist rushed me back to the ER and asked the staff, “Did you do a CT Scan with contrast?” He went on to say, “This patient has massive mucosal hemorrhages through out his gastrointestinal tract related to mesentery ischemia like an Aortic Dissection.” That was the first time anyone used that word. We were almost 8 hours into our ER stay. I was taken to the medical ICU. The hospital called my partner and asked if he would return to the ER. I was not coherent, nor do I remember most of what occurred next. My sister kept a journal for me of everyday while I was hospitalized. He gave the permission to fly me to Ohio State University Medical Center to the Ross Heart Hospital. After a flight across town, they repeated testing and found I had dissected from aortic root down to the femoral bifurcation, both arms, both carotids, renal artery, mesentery artery and was leaking blood into the abdomen. The large portion of my bowel was necrotic due to the lack of blood flow. I had 16 hours of surgery by a team of physicians. My family was asked since I was 35 yo, if they could try some experimental procedures. Family supported their decision. I was vented and sedated for the next two weeks.
Once the two weeks ended, they extubated me from vent. I had severe abdominal pain that afternoon. Thinking I might be leaking from graphs, they took me back to surgery. In surgery they found I had gangrene in my bowel. During the original surgery they missed a section that was necrotic. I also had showered clots to most of my major organs as I was then identified to be allergic to Heparin (otherwise known as HITS). Digging deeper, they found I had an anti-phospholipid syndrome (clotting disorder). My kidneys and liver both shut down. I was placed back on vent, given renal dialysis and plasmapheresis for my liver. I acquired MRSA and Aspergillus in my lungs besides the gangrene in my gut. White count was over 58,000 and I was pretty much a wreck and completely septic.
After 3 months of dialysis and plasmapheresis, my kidneys and liver started working. They could not close me due postop due to the gangrene. My abdomen stayed open the whole time and I went home with open abdomen. I spent a total of 5 months in the ICU and went to rehab for 3 more months. I had a colostomy for a while and had to learn how to walk and use my hands again.
Over the years, they continue to keep close tabs on me and have published several articles about my surgery. I have had several surgeries since that were directly related to this first incident. I have tendencies to form adhesions or scar tissue. They have had to do several abdominal surgeries, 6 to be exact, to release scar tissue for bowel obstructions. I have had Aortic Fenestration for my renal arteries. I had a heart attack in 2014 and they have cathed me twice.
15 years later, my grafts are stable. I went back to work full time after 8 months. I continue to a work full time job. More importantly, I continue to live each day as if it was my last, taking full advantage of things before me.