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
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
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
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
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
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