Personal Stories: Jane Prugh
As I was writing the day's schedule on the blackboard in my fourth grade
classroom I felt as though someone had done a karate chop right in the
middle of my back. Oh, my God, I thought, I'm having a heart attack and
the children will be coming in in just a few minutes! I stood silently
for a few minutes, experiencing severe pain, but decided that it was not
a heart attack because it wasn't in my left arm, I wasn't perspiring,
and my chest felt ok! I hesitated to call 911 because I didn't want to
upset my wonderful students. So I waited for FOUR hours until lunch and
then drove myself to the emergency room! What a fool!!!
After an EKG
and other tests were normal, I was left to lay on my gurney for a few
hours in terrible pain even though I had told them that I had Marfan
syndrome. Finally, they decided to do a CAT scan on me. After obtaining
the results things really started to happen. I was transferred by
ambulance (because the helicopters were all out) to another hospital.
There I was greeted by the open heart team, but after reading my X-rays
they told me that I had had a type "B" aortic dissection and that they
would simply keep me in intensive care watching my blood pressure and
help to alleviate my pain.
After six days I went home and spent the next six weeks sitting,
doing needlepoint, reading books by the fire and being well cared for by
devoted friends and grown children.
I was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome at Johns Hopkins Hospital in
1982 while accompanying my nine year old daughter whom our pediatrician
suspected of having Marfans. She was obviously a more severe and typical
case - I was simply thought to be a marginal Marfan patient with few
symptoms and little dilation of my aortic root. That all changed in
Since then I have been quite fine for which I am eternally grateful.
I returned to work after seven weeks of rest feeling great. The amazing
thing is the younger woman who had substituted for me had had an aortic
dissection (type A) just two years before. We told the children that we
were two of the five out of a million people who experience aortic
dissections! I found very little information about aortic dissections on
the internet and although I realize how serious my condition is I try to
ignore it as much as possible.
I have my tests (MRI, echo, etc.) each year, try to eat healthy
meals, walk daily, swim in the summer and try to be good about not
lifting heavy objects. I retired from teaching in 2002 and have
continued to enjoy life since then. I travel to Europe whenever possible
as well as in the U.S. and try not to think about how far I am from a
hospital! One of my doctors advised me to avoid islands, but my
cardiologist suggested that if they have a decent hospital it's ok. I
wear my Medic Alert bracelet at all times and have MedJet protection in
case I need help overseas.
I am blessed by having some of the best doctors in the country: Dr.
Reed Pyeritz at U. Pa., Dr. Richard Devereux at Cornell, and Dr.
Theodore Li in Washington, D.C. They have me on a regimen of atenolol
and norvasc to make sure my blood pressure stays below 120/80. I also
take lipitor to make sure all my numbers are perfect!
My only complaints are difficulty in loosing weight, shortness of
breath and general weakness when climbing lots of stairs and recently
some lower back pain. I guess that's not too bad at age 58. I am
frustrated by not really knowing what exercises I can do (yoga, pilates?),
but have been told to continue walking, riding my bike and swimming.
Considering what my life might be I realize how fortunate I am and
continue to live my life without much thought to what lies ahead. When I
found my 54 year old husband dead of a heart attack (he had diabetes) I
truly realized how precious life is, and I plan to enjoy as much of it
as I possibly can.
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