Personal Stories: Karl Bjorklund

Our son had no prior warning of an aortic dissection or any heart problems, except that he has had hypertension since the age of 12. It has been under control with medication. He was very tall (6'7"). No doctor he had ever seen had considered Marfan's, though he was very thin with long fingers and very double jointed. We had never heard of Marfan's.

At age 35, just two months ago, on July 18, 2004, he died of an aortic dissection. He had gone to the emergency room complaining of a severe headache (radiating to the neck) on Saturday, the 17th. They did a CAT scan of his head, never associating it with his heart or aorta, because the pain was in his head. They found nothing, so they sent him home with pain killers for the headache.

On Sunday, July 18, the pain in his head worsened, and spread to his shoulders. He went into the emergency room again. His blood pressure both days was normal, but on Sunday the pain finally started to move downward toward his chest. As they were preparing him to do an x-ray of his chest, he was in mid-sentence and collapsed. They could not revive him and determined later that he had died of an aortic dissection.

As the parents (he was not married) we signed for the autopsy. The coroner said it was likely from his appearance that he had Marfan's. Also, his hypertension contributed to a slightly enlarged heart.

We spoke to the emergency room physicians, both the Saturday and Sunday ones. They were very compassionate, but we told them that our only concern was that the next time a very tall person with hypertension and a headache came into the emergency room, an x-ray of the chest might be appropriate.

We also spoke to his family physician, the doctor who regularly checked him for his hypertension. We requested records from him, but are still waiting after two months; they must go through the lawyer of the clinic to which the doctor belongs. The hospital gave us their records immediately.

Also, four years ago he went to another hospital for chest pains. They took an x-ray, told him it was a pulled muscle, and sent him home with pain pills. They are giving us trouble about releasing the records.

We are about to consult an attorney, not because we have any intentions of lawsuits, but just because we are educators and want to know exactly what really happened. We do not want to bury our heads in the sand.

We owe it to our son. We owe it to all of the sons and daughters who might be saved.

How would it be best to spread the news to emergency room physicians that severe headache can be a symptom of a cardiac event? Kathy in Spokane

Contact Kathy


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