Personal Stories: Nancy Gaskill and Cindi Hill  (Mother and Daughter)

I am writing this story for my mother and me. You will read how I saved her life, but in return, she saved mine. It began on March 17, 2005, at 11:15 am. I was driving my car to the Houston airport because I was flying to Indiana to meet my husband. The plan was for my mother to drive my car back home after she dropped me off.


We live one street from each other in south Houston, so the ride to the airport is about 45 minutes each way. We were riding north on I45 and chatting about the family etc. All of a sudden, my mother grabbed her chest and said she was having the worst pain she has ever experienced in her life. My first thought was that she had indigestion, but she said the pain was not going away. I grabbed her hand and told her to take deep breaths, but she proceeded to stroke out on me. Here I am driving 70 mph through Houston traffic and thinking I have got to get my mother medical help.


I knew we were not near any hospitals and couldn't turn around and go back to the hospital near our house because we had gone too far. I heard a voice in my right ear that said, "Call 911 on your cell phone." I dialed the number with my right hand, while trying to keep the car safely on the road with my left hand. The emergency personnel told me to pull off at the next exit, so I did. Luckily there was a deserted parking lot where I parked my car. At this time, my mother is unconscious, but I knew she was breathing because her stomach was going up and down.


I laid the seat down flat to keep her airway open. The ambulance arrived and removed her from my car to a stretcher. She was combative now and moaning like she was trying to talk to me, but couldn't. I told them she does not have high blood pressure or diabetes. She is of average weight and of excellent health for a 72 year old. We were all baffled as what was going on in her body. She was rushed to Memorial Hermann in the Houston Medical Center where she was being treated as a possible stroke victim. It just so happened, that a Hungarian doctor on call diagnosed her condition as an aorta dissection. He hadn't completed his USA medical status yet, so he was a consultant until then. If he hadn't been on call that day, she would be dead.


Dr. Anthony Estrera, who was trained and on the elite team of the renowned Dr. Hazim Safi, came out to tell my sisters and me that she was on her way to surgery and couldn't say if she would live through the surgery or not. They told us it was the same thing John Ritter died of. After 4 1/2 hours of surgery, Dr. Estrera and his team replaced her ascending aorta. She made it through surgery! The next day though, she was taken back to surgery for internal bleeding. She had received 18 pints of blood during the night. That surgery was a success. All in all, she was in Hermann Hospital for two weeks, and a rehab hospital for four weeks. The day after she was released from rehab, she threw a blood clot and had to return to Hermann for a week. Mother has been home since the middle of May and improving each day. She lost 25 pounds, but is regaining her weight and strength with outpatient therapy.


The doctor said it would take a good 10-12 months to fully recover. In the meantime, a doctor of genetics at Hermann asked to study our family for aortic aneurysms. She took blood samples from my two sisters and me, and told us to get an echocardiogram. We did, and on May 23, 2005, my ascending aortic aneurysm that measured 4.7 was discovered. I was sent for a CT Scan and a heart cath the next week. I am the oldest at 52 of both my sisters. Both of their echo's came out just fine.


On June 29th, 2005, Dr. Estrera operated on me. The aneurysm was larger than they thought, and my valve was leaking. He repaired the aorta with a graft and closed the leaky valve. I am now three weeks out of surgery and doing well. Up until March 17th, we didn't know one thing about aortic dissections. Now we have learned so much, and your website has been a "Godsend". People need to be aware that aortic aneurysms can be genetic too!

Contact Cindi


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