Personal Stories: Amy Schmidt

I am so glad that I found this site. It's really a relief to know that there are a lot of others out there going through the same thing. I have read some fascinating success stories, and I thought I'd share mine.

October 27, 2004 started out like any other day. I am a part-time reading teacher at an elementary school in NW Pennsylvania. I got to school and found out that a substitute teacher did not show, and I would have to cover that classroom- no sweat! The day proceeded as normal, I ate lunch in the teacher's lounge, called my husband to see how his dentist appointment went, and walked down to the cafeteria to pick up "my" class.

On the way up the steps (to get our coats for recess), I felt a terrible burning sensation in my chest and moderate pain. I thought it strange that a PB&J would cause such heartburn, but I tried to ignore it. With every step I took, the pain intensified. I felt as though someone had opened my chest with a chainsaw and lit a blowtorch and was aiming it directly into my abdomen and chest. I knew something was majorly wrong as I walked to the nurse's office and my left leg had gone numb. My father had a heart attack at the age of 41, and I assumed the same thing was happening to me, and I was only 28.

The next thing I know, phone calls are being made to 911, my husband of only four months, Andrew, and my father at work. I was taken to a local hospital where at first they thought I was having an anxiety attack. This is where my story gets crazy.

My father's sister had an aortic dissection in July of 2003. It took doctors two weeks to diagnose her, and after 14 surgeries, she is recovering slowly but surely. My father took one look at my symptoms and knew exactly what was happening to me. My father told the doctors to check me for aortic dissection, and the next thing you know, I'm being life-flighted to Cleveland Clinic. If my aunt had not had an aortic dissection, I now truly believe that I would have died. It was both a blessing and a curse wrapped into one. I feel terrible that my aunt had to go through everything she did, but if she hadn't, I may not be here telling my story.

About ten hours into my whole ordeal, I finally had a stent placed in my descending aorta (vascularly- I was very lucky to not have my chest opened up), and blood flow was re-established to my left leg (which I was told I almost lost). I thank my Vascular Surgeon, Dr. Daniel Clair and his team for saving my life. I'm told I was very close to death when I arrived at Cleveland Clinic. I remained in Cleveland Clinic for the next two weeks and then was sent back to Erie to spend two weeks at a local rehabilitation hospital. I was sent home on Thanksgiving Eve.

I am now on Labetalol, ToprolXL, and Enalapril daily to control my blood pressure and heart rate. I have also been placed on Lexapro for depression-like symptoms. I have drop foot because of the lack of blood flow to my left leg and foot, and severe nerve damage, which is finally starting to regenerate (which is extremely uncomfortable and painful). I completed physical therapy to try to regain my dorsiflection in my left foot and stimulate my nerves to regenerate quicker. Because of all of the stress on my body due to the dissection, I lost 30 pounds (which I really didn't have to lose in the first place), my hair is fell out (not bald, luckily I had really thick hair to start with) and acne (which I never had as a teenager, but eventually went away with a prescription antibiotic. Probably due to stress and medication). I returned to work for the the 2005-2006 school year.

I think the fact that I'm only 30 (just turned in February) was really on my side through all of this. I still have an extremely long way to go to get back to the "old Amy", but my main goal is to stick around for many years and to be able to go for a walk around the block whenever all this snow melts (if it EVER does!). My husband, family and friends have been incredible helping me cope and get through all of this. I can never thank them enough.

My next step was genetic testing at the Cleveland Clinic. They don't feel that I show characteristics of Marfan's, but they are going to tested me for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (which I did not have). I will also most likely find out if I will ever be able to have children, which is a touchy area with me because children have always been my life and my husband and I haven't even been married two years and were thinking about starting a family.

Since my dissection a year and a half ago, we've had four more dissections in my family, including my younger brother, Stephen (just turned 27). We are currently enrolled in a genetic study at the University of Texas due to the large number of dissections in our family. Luckily, everyone has survived due to our current knowledge on this subject which we never would have known if it weren't for all of the dissections in our family

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