Personal Stories: Ken McDowell

I am writing this on behalf of my husband Ken, who was the picture of health and exercised every day for years, but suffered an aortic dissection on December 4, 2003. 

By the Grace of God, he is still with us today.  We had one miracle after another the day it happened.

This is what happened when I received a call at work to get to the hospital immediately (which was only 2 blocks away) as my husband was having symptoms of a heart attack. 

My first thought was probably indigestion - my immediate second thought was that he had one brother die at 58 suddenly with a ruptured aorta and his other brother had a similar situation. 

My first comments to the ER Doctor were to tell him about these two brothers.  He said he did not think that was what was happening to my husband and that Ken had already mentioned that to him.  He said the morphine they were giving him had helped a lot and his vitals were good and showing no signs of a heart attach so they might let him go home in a little while.  (It was about 12:30 when he arrived at ER and this was about 1:30).

As I was making a few phone calls and feeling a little better about the situation, the ER Dr. came by and said he had changed his mind - that since we both had mentioned about the two brothers he would order a scan just to be safe.  Thank God he did!  He came running up to me within a matter of minutes and told me Ken was dissecting as we spoke and he had to get him to another hospital immediately.  I have never seen a Dr. move so fast or be so concerned - ever!  Within a few minutes they had him (and they allowed me to ride in front with the driver) in an ambulance on the way to Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro. 

They took him straight to surgery with my son and son-in-law arriving right behind us and in time for them to speak to Ken before they told him (and us) he might not make it through the surgery.  One of our two daughters had been in China on business and was due to fly back in to Greensboro that afternoon.  The other daughter was home with our two little granddaughters.

He was in surgery about 7 or 8 hours as family and friends gathered and we were much in prayer during the long wait.    Our daughter ‘s flight arrived and her husband brought her straight to the hospital as well as other daughter arriving so we were all there for the long wait.  The surgeon finally came out and told us of the repairs he had made and that it would be touch and go for a few days.  He had replacement of the ascending aorta and St Jude aortic valve with reimplantation of the coronary arteries because of type 1 aortic dissection extending from the aortic valve down to the entire thoracic aorta and into the femorals .

He really fought the life support while in intensive care and finally pulled everything out himself not realizing what he was doing (and while even being restrained!)  That gave all of us a real scare but he started breathing on his on!  Again so many miracles…..He was in intensive care for a week and then in hospital about 3 more weeks.  He had a lot of complications while in intensive care and also after getting out into a coronary care room.  He had to have a second surgery because the incision that was made in his groin would not close and fluid kept draining out profusely.  They tried everything but finally had to go back in and take care of that.

And finally he got to come home…… very weak and on many medications!  His recovery was very slow but he has really come a long way.  He still has a lot of ongoing problems but has come off some of his medicines – others he will be taking the rest of his life.  And of course, he continues seeing his cardiologist (and even his surgeon) quite often as well as having different test done on a regular basis. 

And for encouragement to others, all doctors that have seen him say he is a walking miracle, that very few survive what he did and live to tell about it.  He is able to work (but doesn’t travel as much on his job as he use to) and actually there are even times that I can forget all this ever happened (if only for a few minutes).  He really looks good and seems to feel pretty good most of the time.  Of course, he has to pace himself and he does have a few bad days but overall, he is doing great and we thank God for that.  The children and I had a “Celebration of Life” party for him with lots of friends and family on December 4, 2004 as it had been exactly one year since we nearly lost him.

 It is beyond comprehension how often this is misdiagnosed!!

Contact Ken
Phone: 206-550-7957

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