Personal Stories: Peggy Hopkins

How was I to know that doing the dishes would trigger a tear in my aorta! It was a Monday evening, November,26, 2002. Two of my daughters were asleep. I figured they must have had a rough day and turned in early; they never went to bed at 8:00 pm. As soon as the pain began I knew it was something that I had never experienced and that it was something that could be serious...I just never realized that it could be life threatening. I had never been diagnosed with anything that would indicate that an AA could be a threat and the pain didn't point in the direction of anything concerning the heart so I took an aspirin and went to bed and hoped that this 'thing' would go away.

I had the typical AA presenting pain: sudden ripping pain in the middle of my chest that immediately traveled to my jaw and settled back to the middle of my chest and into my back. Along with all of this was difficulty breathing. I just couldn't catch my breath. I knew my smoking was bad but not this bad. Anyway, after lying down for about an hour the pain became more intense and that's when I decided that I needed to go to the hospital.

As I was getting ready to go, my third daughter called from her boyfriend's house and needed a ride home. I told her that I'd be there shortly and that we would then head to the hospital to check this 'thing' out. She wanted all the details; I had none to give other than I knew I needed to get to the hospital. I didn't call an ambulance because I was living in West Virginia and I wanted to go to the hospital in Maryland. We were only 8 miles from either, so I decided I could drive myself. I think that by taking that route, it saved my life because the Doctor at Washington County Hospital was totally on the ball and had this thing diagnose within an hour.

I was in a helicopter, not my favorite mode of transportation, and on my way to the University of Maryland hospital within an hour and a half of enter the ER in Hagerstown. I remember talking to the nurse/flight attendant and we talked about the safety of helicopters. Weird. I was more focused on this contraption I was in rather than the condition I was in.

I left my daughter at the hospital with instructions to drive home (she didn't' have her license at the time :}) and let her sisters know what was going on.

I barely remember arriving in Baltimore and going into the hospital. I even talked to the doctor and I think I talked to my daughter Sarah on the phone. That's it until I woke up on Tuesday afternoon after an 7 to 8 hour operation to repair the tear. They used a vessel in my leg and they cooled my down to 'a very cold temperature' (I just don't remember the exact degree) so that they could slow down my organs to the point that they could be considered 'not functioning'.

I still think that that procedure has cause me memory problems - I find it difficult to remember words. I can't remember the names of things at times and have to stop and picture what it is so that I can then put a name to it. NO! (ha ha) It's not menopause or old age!

I remember when I woke up and my family was there I asked what day it was and then I went back to sleep. Recovery was the usual. Everything went as planned and my doctor told me that I was very lucky. The tear in my aorta was great and that because I got myself to the hospital when I did and the doctor in Hagerstown was able to pick up on what was going on, I was alive.

The recovery from the surgery was relatively easy. Recovery from this 'thing' has been difficult. I've read a lot of others thoughts and concerns with the aftermath of this horrific experience. Most of us will agree that we have all experienced the same sort of thoughts about what the future holds. I often wonder if it will happen again. My doctor tells me that, yes, it could happen again, but as long as I keep my blood pressure down and "exercise", I'll be ok.

The other kicker in all of this is that I also have an abdominal dissection that is not a real concern at this time. They don't know if I've always had it or if it came with the premier dissection. I have to go in every year for a CT scan to have it checked. This is the first time I've diligently looked for a website such as this. I have been needing to hear what others are experiencing after their operations and how they are dealing with everything. Thanks for listening.

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