Personal Stories: Leonard G Lane Jr.

Like most layman, I'd never heard of aortic dissection. At 53, I was in good health, although I was taking medication to control high blood pressure. As far I knew, it was working.

Wednesday morning, 15 February, I awoke as usual and began getting ready for work. My wife, Donna, left home first, leaving me alone in the house. At about 8:15 AM I was finishing my breakfast and reading the paper online when I was suddenly and without warning struck by tremendous pain in the center of my chest. I attempted to stand, but my legs gave way and I fell to the floor.

Fortunately, I didn't black-out. I was able to crawl through the house to the front hall where my cell phone was located.

I called 911 and then unlocked the front door. For some reason I then decided that I should get dressed since I was wearing my robe at the time! I crawled to the bedroom and somehow put on some clothes before returning to the front hall.

The pain was constant and I still couldn't stand up. I knew this was serious but I had no idea what was happening to me. I assumed it was a heart attack.

The EMT's arrived within minutes and off we went. They performed an EKG and announced that my heart was fine. However, they couldn't get a pulse in my arms or legs and my blood pressure was very low.

By 9:00 AM I was at the West Houston Medical Center emergency room.

That's the last I remember of that day.

I'm told that I remained conscious and carried on conversations with the medical personnel up until I went into surgery at 1:00 PM.

The staff quickly began tests to figure out the problem. As one doctor told me later, "your BP was so low that you should have been out cold." But I wasn't. I was alert and rational.

The doctors soon realized that I had an ascending aortic dissection that was very advanced.

A surgical team was assembled and I was operated on using a heart/lung machine.

I was very fortunate to have an outstanding, experienced surgeon, Dr. Robert McKowen. Even he didn't think much of my chances, however. He told me later that my aortic was "hanging by a thread" and that he "couldn't understand how I survived." But survive I did. Dr. McKowen replaced 30 mm of the aorta and repaired the aortic valve.

I came to that evening in the ICU surrounded by my family and friends. They had been through hell that day. I felt like I'd been run over by a truck, but at least I was alive.

I spent 8 days in the hospital, 5 in ICU, before returning home.

At this point I'm recovering and looking forward to returning to work in a couple of weeks. My BP is under control.

My doctor tells me that from now on I'll be having a CAT Scan every 6 months.

Realizing just how close I came to death is a very sobering experience.

I hope my next near-death experience is a long time coming.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to learning more about aortic dissection.

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