Brother & Sister Suffer Same Aortic Dissection

By Meredith Whittemore

You don’t need to tell Kathy Marshall how close she was to dying after experiencing an aortic dissection in August. Her brother experienced one several years prior.

“He was in a coma for a week or so after he one. He almost bled out and died. I didn’t realize at first how bad my condition was, but once they told me the diagnosis, I knew I was lucky to get to the hospital when I did,” Marshall said.

An aortic dissection is a tear in the inner lining of the aorta, the main blood vessel of the body that arises from the heart. The condition is rare, but deadly and often runs in families. When the tear first occurs, it typically feels like a severe, sharp, “tearing” pain that can start in the chest and back and extend to the abdomen and lower back.

“The pain was so bad in my chest that it knocked me over. Then I sat up and had another sharp pain. I tried to go to bed and tell myself it was gas, but the next morning, I couldn’t fight it. I told my husband what happened and that I needed go to the ER and we left. I didn’t even put my makeup on,” Marshall said.

Marshall, who lives in Grimes County, went to a hospital in Bryan, and was then transferred to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center where she learned of the life-threatening diagnosis. Because of her brother’s previous experience, Marshall was also aware that repairing the aorta could mean open heart surgery, a procedure that made her nervous. That’s when cardiothoracic surgeon Anthony Estrera, MD, told her she may be a candidate for a new type of minimally invasive treatment that would repair her aorta and prevent the need for open heart surgery.

Innovative, Less Invasive Endovascular Aortic Repair

“Treating aortic dissection has traditionally been accomplished with heart surgery. However, depending on the location of the dissection, it can now be treated using catheters, called endovascular aortic repair. In Mrs. Marshall’s case, a catheter was inserted into the groin artery that was positioned near the heart. This catheter provided a guide by which the special endovascular stent graft was introduced in the aorta, positioned in the ideal place to exclude the disrupted aorta, and deployed.  The stent graft lines the section of the aorta that is torn, essentially preventing additional tearing. This is a great, less invasive option for patients in general, but especially those who may not be good candidates for open surgery,” said Dr. Estrera, who is also a professor of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

Listening to Your Body Can Save Your Life

Marshall said the procedure was an easy one and she has since returned home to her regular lifestyle. She encourages people not to make excuses for any chest pain they may have.

“People need to listen to their bodies. If you have a pain in your chest, go have it checked out. I don’t know why I didn’t go to the hospital immediately, I just didn’t want to face it, I guess. I was lucky that it didn’t tear worse than it did,” Marshall said.

Dr. Estrera agreed.

“Don’t ignore chest pain. It could be a variety of very serious issues that require medical care. Other symptoms of serious heart issues also include things like shortness of breath, fainting and fatigue. Don’t try to make excuses for it. Get it checked out. It really could mean the difference between life and death,” Dr. Estrera said.

Memorial Hermann’s team of affiliated cardiologist and cardiovascular surgeons provide a multidisciplinary approach to the detection and treatment of cardiac and vascular diseases. Learn more about the full spectrum of conditions treated at Memorial Hermann, or schedule and appointment with a cardiologist near you.

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