Personal Stories: Earl Hamm

I was was repairing a septic tank on Dec. 30th when I started feeling like something was not right. I went home for lunch, and then went back to work for a few hours, even though I felt like he’d “been drug through a knothole backwards.” I continued my regular routine that evening, and worked at a local church, making and carrying boxes of food to distribute to the needy, but I finally felt so awful that I had to go sit down for a while. That night my blood pressure would spike to over 212/120 and then go back down on it’s own.

The next morning I still felt awful, and since I have Marfan Syndrome, and have already had two aneurysms with dissections, my wife called the cardiologist. He was out of town, and the only one who could see me was the nurse-practitioner. She took my vitals, and listened to my heart and told us that she felt it was just a strained chest muscle, since I had been doing some shoveling. We told her that we wanted a CT scan, and she finally agreed to it “if it would make us feel better.”  She also agreed to get some blood work drawn.

It took us a couple of hours of walking to different parts of the hospital to do the tests. After the CT, we went back to the Nurse Practitioner. Immediately she asked us to sit down and brought in one of the Cardiologists that worked in the same office. She said I had a dissection that included the entire aortic arch and running the entire length of my back. She said to sit still; the paramedics were on their way. Immediately after bringing the gurney to the room, they carefully transported me to St. Luke’s Hospital, in Boise, ID.

 The surgeon met with us right away, and started me on IV meds to try to get my blood pressure under control, and to thicken up my blood for surgery. I was in no real pain, just felt icky. The plan was to keep the pressure low for a week or more while the dissection “healed” and to then replace it with a graft. By the next day, though, the dissection was progressing into the great vessels that feed the brain and I was starting to hurt badly. They did surgery the next morning. After more than 10 hours, the surgeon came to the waiting room, took the family to the conference room to tell them that I was not going to survive the surgery. He said my aneurysm and dissection was humungous, the tissue was like wet paper to sew to, and I had hemorrhaged greatly. I had been “on ice” off the bypass machine for over 99 minutes without circulation, and they felt that there was just not much chance of recovery, and if I made it, there would be paralysis and brain damage. The surgeon went back to the operating room where his assistant was still working on me. The family was devastated, of course.

 About an hour later, the surgeon returned to the conference room and informed my family that I had rallied and might just pull through. He had replaced my entire aortic arch, but could not repair the remaining dissection running the length of my backbone.

 It was a long, hard recovery, with 14 days in the ICU, a thoracentisis, a paralyzed vocal cord, and two more hospitalizations or complications. I am now feeling almost back to normal now. I suffered no paralysis besides my vocal cord, and my voice is starting to come back. Even though I suffered from a depression, there is no discernable brain damage either. My remaining dissection is stable for now, so I may not need surgery for quite some time. God has truly blessed me and my family.

Earl Hamm
Phone: 206-550-7957

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