Personal Stories: Skip Trahern
Dawn Trahern has just posted in the AorticDissection.com
RULES-PLEASE READ! forum of Welcome to the AorticDissection Message
Board under the title of Type A Dissection-Our Story.
This thread is located at
Here is the message that has just been posted:
My name is Dawn Trahern. My husband Skip is a survivor of an
extensive Type A dissection (I will explain what I mean by extensive
later). I am posting our story for several reasons. First, I think
this will be a great forum to purge all of the medical information and
emotions that we carry around each day. Second, I hope that our story
will encourage and inform others. And finally the third reason I
wanted to post to this forum is because my dear husband wants his
story in writing-he is a survivor and is proud to be with us today.
Skip at the time of the incident, December 14 2005 and was 44 years
old. He was in relatively good shape and active. We have three young
children. Skip had a very busy schedule and was a Vice President for a
large technology firm and traveled extensively.
On December 15th 2005, I was contacted by 1 of Skipís colleagues.
She stated that Skip had fallen in the office and had hurt his nose
and seemed a little confused. She mentioned the paramedics were on
their way. I immediately felt a rush of doom go through my body. Skip
was extremely healthy and strong man. He is a big guy at 6'1" weighing
250 pounds. A football player-type.
The paramedics suggested that I go straight to the emergency room
and meet them there. I knew in my heart that something was very wrong.
When I arrived through the large glass entrance of the hospital, I was
met by a police officer and a nurse. They immediately knew me; I had
no idea who they were. They asked me to follow them through a set of
double doors and down a long hallway. All I kept saying was, please, I
donít want to go with you...please. They led me into a room where a
chaplain was waiting for me-at that point the true seriousness of the
situation had come to life.
I refused to speak to anyone and would not speak directly to any
one in the room, I assume for fear of hearing the worst-that Skip had
passed away. They blurted out that he was still alive but that they
needed some medical information. At that point, the emergency room
physician entered the room. He knelt down in front of me and said-"I
am Dr. McGreevy-your husband is gravely ill, I have very little time
to spend with you and I must get any pertinent medical information
from you immediately." I did not even take a breath before the words
came out---"my husbandís father has a history of aortic aneurysms". At
that point the doctor turned and ran out of the room.
Dr. McGreevy escorted me back to see Skip. He told me he had a
helicopter on the way and that Skip had had a Type A aortic dissection
and that he was not sure that Skip would make it to the next hospital.
As soon as I saw Skip I knew things were not good. He was inverted
head down, speaking incoherently, wanting to get up and go and was
somewhat combative. He did recognize me and I told him how bad the
situation was and that we needed to both calm down. We prayed and made
sure that all was good between Skip and our Lord and Savior Jesus
Christ. At that point we cried a little and tried to stay calm.
Dr. McGreevy informed me that they were having trouble getting Skip
accepted at 2 of the largest heart specializing hospitals in our area
but that their sister hospital had approved his arrival. Dr. McGreevy
comforted me stating that the surgeon on call was an excellent surgeon
and that we would be in good hands. I was not feeling very good about
not being accepted to the areas premier heart hospitals but what
choice did we have. Our fate was in the hands of an amazing surgeon,
Dr. Adum Qazi at Washington Adventist Hospital in Maryland (right
outside of Washington DC).
Before Skip left, Dr. McGreevy, his staff and I prayed for Skips
healing. The emergency room physicians and staff at Shady Grove
Adventist Hospital are great!
Skip arrived at Washington Adventist (WA) by helicopter about 2 1/2
hours after his initial fall. Seems like a long time but really it is
amazingly fast given all that needed to be done. Emergency medicine in
our area is absolutely amazing.
I arrived at the hospital about the time that Dr. Qazi was
beginning the surgery to repair the dissection.
Dr. Qazi came out a couple hours later and said-"I am all done and
I repaired the aorta". He went on to explain that Skip had virtually
"blown up"- that he had ďfully dissectedĒ. As I understand it Dr. Qazi
repaired Skip arch (the area that dissected) by stitching and wrapping
it with Dacron he then re-suspended the flaps of his valve using
another stitching technique. Skip dissected at the arch into the
ascending aorta all the way up through the carotids, to the descending
aorta, through the abdomen and to and including the both iliac. He
also had restricted blood flow to one of his kidneys. Dr. Qazi said
that Skipís dissection was extremely extensive dissection and that our
emergency room doctor saved his life. Dr. McGreevy and Dr. Qazi will
always be special to us. I very pleased to say that Dr Qazi took
pictures and video of the operation and uses it to train doctors on
the type of repair that Dr. Qazi performed on Skip.
This begins the long journey. Skip remained in ICU for 10 days. The
beginning was rough-not sure if he would be paralyzed or there had
been any brain damage due to the lack of blood to the brain and if
there were any complications from the heart-lung bypass. Skip was very
confused for 5 of those days. The ICU physicians found that Skip had
suffered 2 strokes probably either during surgery or on the flight to
the hospital. When Skip was accepted from the helicopter his blood
pressure was reading 40/20. The diagnosis of 2 strokes is very scary.
We met with a wonderful neurologist by the name of Dr. Poltorak. He
was very reassuring that the strokes were in areas of the brain that
should not cause Skip too many problems and that he expected Skip to
recover nicely. Wow!
Skip remained confused for several weeks but slowly regained his
senses, etc. Amazingly Skip returned to work in 8 weeks.
For the first 6 months we saw tons of specialists in search of
anyone knowledgble with aortic dissections. As we all know, these
doctors are rare. In any case, Dr. Poltorak, our neurologist, took a
nice liking to Skip (and me, I hope) and helped direct us to some
excellent physicians. The bottom line is that skip and I had to manage
the case and work with a variety of doctors. We actually had a friend
that was a nurse practitioner. She helped us get through the system
and understand the medical system as well as how we could act as our
One suggestion to anyone facing a similar situation is to make sure
you have a full set of records including the, MRIís & Cat Scans and
physician notes. You will need this information as you work with new
doctors to help get them up to speed with the situation. In the
beginning, repeat tests were being done because we did not have
Skip is now being followed by a prominent vascular surgeon at
Georgetown Hospital in Washington DC. He is also being seen by a very
well respected neurologist from the University Of Maryland Medical
Center. This doctor specializes in strokes and their prevention. Skip
also regularly visits his cardiologist.
We receive almost quarterly MRAís/MRIís and they use 3D imaging
models to check the aorta and the flows to the carotids and down
through the iliac. The doctors suspected that Skip had/has an
underlying genetic connective tissue disorder that started this whole
story. However, to date we have been unable to isolate any specific
syndrome (i.e. Marfans, Elers, Loeys-Dietz).
Skipís current medicine protocol is pretty much prescribed to lower
his blood pressure to a range of 100/60 or lower. Losartan was the
drug that really helped lower the pressure. It took almost 6 months to
get his pressure where we need it. Skips only physical change are some
numbness in his left arm, hand and foot. He is more tired probably
because of the low pressure. Skip also limits his physical activity
and keeps away from high intensity working out and absolutely no
weight training other than the little 25 pound weights (poor guy...he
is used to lifting lots more than that :). He continues to exercise by
walking and has recently taken up cycling.
Since the initial incident, Skip celebrated his 45 birthday with 65
of his closest friends. We celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary
this year, and he has he has been present at 2 birthday for each of
our 3 children. Skip also retired from his executive position at
Hewlett Packard (he had been with the company for 24 years!). The
pressure of the job and the heavy world wide travel secured our
decision for Skip to retire. He would like to work in a less stressful
environment after he has taken some time off to re-energize and
re-focus. All in all he feels good has a positive outlook on the
future. He lives every day to the fullest
We feel very blessed to have survived our extensive Type A
dissection. We believe that all of the physicians were perfectly
placed by God and that our prayers and conversations with Jesus,
healed our "Skippy".
Thank you for reading. There is a ton more medical information that
I could write but I thought the story first and the full medical stuff
could come later.
Also, we would like to thank Brian Tinsley for developing this
website. It was a great resource for me during a time when I did not
know which way to turn. The website also continues to be a great
resource for updated medical information related to Aortic
Dissections. So thank you Brian for all you do!