Personal Stories: Elizabeth Maul

I suffered my aortic dissection on Dec. 23, 2006. I was 56 and had never been diagnosed with high blood pressure or any symptoms that would have lead to early detection. I was an active mother and elementary school teacher. I was cleaning my bathroom, preparing for family visitors for Christmas. I was scrubbing the shower when I was stricken with severe pain in my back. I really thought I had pulled a muscle in my back between my shoulder blades. I immediately sat down and tried to relax to see if it was a cramp. Then I went to the living room to lay down on the floor to see if I could stretch it out. When I tried this, I could only roll up into the fetal position, as the pain was so intense.

My daughter was home for Christmas and because she isa 911 dispatcher, she immediately called 911. I told her to pray for me, because whatever was wrong, it was serious. We both began to pray, and my cocker spaniel licked my face as I cried in pain. Soon my husband arrived home with my other daughter. They had been Christmas shopping and had received a call to come home immediately. I was glad they did, I was sure I was dieing. When they arrived I could barely breathe because of the severe pain. The EMT's arrived soon thereafter.

Their immediate tests showed no heart attack symptoms, but my excessive sweating and excruciating pain alerted them to something abnormal taking place. Pain medication was administered as well as nitro glycerin. Nothing could alleviate the pain. The trip to the hospital went quickly, thank goodness. I was taken to the local, small town hospital in Somerset PA. I tell you this because it really is a miracle that it was diagnosed so quickly. After an ekg, eeg, and other quickly administered tests, they did an xray and quickly a CT scan. I either had passed out from the pain, or was given something to relax me for the tests, because I do not remember them, but I do remember the ammonia capsule waking me up.

I remember hearing the ER doctor telling my husband that I had a dissected aneurysm, their term for aortic dissection and was going to be life flighted immediately upon arrival of the helicopter to a cardiac unit about 30 miles away for surgery. I did not expect to live to see the hospital. I kissed all of my family, my sisters, Father, husband and daughters good by. I cried because I had not yet said good by to my son.  The trip to the hospital was a beautiful one. I remember the sunny bright blue sky with a few white fluffy clouds, very unusual for a Somerset Winterís day.

I was in no pain. Either the morphine was working, or God had me wrapped in His loving arms. I was at peace. Even the attending EMT wondered if I was still okay. I told him I was, but that he needed to take a helicopter flight in Maui if he really wanted to see something beautiful. I was also humming some Christian songs I had recently fallen in love with from KLOV, the best Christian radio station ever. The surgery team met me upon arrival. By then there was no more pain stabbing me in the back. Their continued tests showed the dissection had stopped and the high blood pressure medicine I was given was doing its job. However, the tear was at least 23 inches long and spiraled the entire length of my aorta into my left leg. There were many possibilities of complications. I was admitted to the Cardio ICU.

I was on some serious blood pressure medicines. Many CT scans were done to determine if damage was done to my kidneys. At this point, Iím sure there was more stress for all my family. It was now Christmas Eve. Maybe our last together, but everyone worked very hard to be brave. We didnít know what we would soon be facing. Emergency meetings were called with the specialists to determine what course of action they might want to take. Christmas came and went. Family came and went. Specialists came and went. God was there with me all the time. Except for some very uncomfortable sleepless nights being hooked up to many beeping machines with alarms going off regularly, I seemed fine to myself. I was released after 7 days on 4 serious doses of medications, with the expectations that I would seek  follow up treatment with a thoracic/cardiovascular specialist in Pittsburgh, PA.

I have continued with CT scans every 3 - 4 months. My doctor has said that as terrible as a 23 in. tear is, everything that could have gone right has and the tear spirals away from every other branch artery or organ. I am relatively pain free, but live with the concern that something else could happen. I also have periods of anxiety. Why did this happen?

Why did I live while others do not? I wish there was more understanding of the cause, more for my family than for myself. I pray they do not have to go through this. I have retired from teaching, and continue to thoroughly enjoy life. I recently bicycled at least 400 miles over a 3 month period in Florida.  I completely give God the credit for putting all the people in place that day to save my life. Every day is a gift.

"Live well, Love much, Laugh often!"

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