Personal Stories: Ron Abbitt
I am writing this for my father (he is a notoriously bad at
spelling, and a dissected aorta has done nothing to improve that
skill). In all seriousness, he is a walking miracle whose sense of
humor carried him (and us) through the incredibly difficult adjustment
to life and living after an aortic dissection.
On August 2, 2003, a Saturday, my father was up early, removing the
baseboards in his home office so that he would be able to install an
enormous desk he had just made. Always a do-it-yourselfer, this was
just another task for him. Around 6:30 he felt the tear. He thought he
was having a heart attack, or maybe that he had injured his back, or
was possibly suffering a stroke. He tried to prepare for a trip to the
hospital, but fell while walking into his living room. Lucky for all,
he fell next to the phone. He called my mother because he doubted his
ability to speak coherently to 911. My mother called 911, and was then
rushed home by a kind customer. My husband and I started for the
hospital around 7am.
When I arrived at the hospital, I saw my father in a hospital bed,
sweating profusely. He received a shot of morphine, but it did not
help the pain. As in Brian's story, we were incredibly fortunate that
the emergency doctor in this small, small town hospital identified a
problem with his aorta. A chest x-ray made him suspect an aneurysm. My
father was then prepared for a flight to St. Thomas Hospital in
Nashville, Tennessee -- a top-ranked hospital.
Our drive to Nashville would take about 2 hours, so the emergency
room staff suggested we gather some essentials and take our time: we
would not be able to see him for hours anyway, so there was no need
for us to hurry. Easy to say.
e were told to contact the ER on our way to Nashville. The first
call told us that my father's condition was very serious -- maybe an
aneurysm, maybe not. The second call told us that he had suffered an
aortic dissection. We had never heard of that -- it was almost beyond
When we finally arrived at the hospital, we found my father in the
critical care unit in a medical coma. He was on a respirator and
connected to two or three IV bags of medicine. His blood pressure
could not be controlled.
My father would remain in this coma for over two weeks. During that
time, my mother and I made the five daily trips to the critical care
unit. We were escorted in the Quiet Rooms several times. The
cardiologist, Dr. Dante Graves, told us the statistics involved in
such cases. We were told that they would try to remove the respirator,
and that when they did my father would probably die. We were told that
he would "probably die" almost every day. If he lived, he would
probably be paralyzed or in terrible pain. We would watch the levels
of medicine drop, nearing the doses that would allow him to wake up
and get off the respirator. Then we would go back for our scheduled
visit only to find the levels of medicine back to heavy doses. The
websites I visited in the waiting room only confirmed the severity of
his situation: I can remember reading of one man who suffered so much
after his dissection that he wished for death.
My father kept surviving every attempt to reduce the medicine and
reliance on the respirator. During this time, my father developed a
rash that was caused by Lasik. He also received a shunt so that
medicine could be delivered more easily. This would cause problems
It seemed that our lives would be nothing more that those five
visits a day, and that my hearty, healthy father would be reduced to
nothing. Then came the day that we entered the unit to find the
medicine at acceptable levels and my father moving in awkward shrugs
and stretches. His eyes were barely open, showing only the whites. At
that time I assumed that he was permanently damaged from the
medicines, and that what we saw was all that was left.
On the next visit he had improved, opening unfocused eyes and
moving more normally. By the next day he could almost speak. His first
words were to ask for bread and a gallon of water.
Things progressed rapidly after that. A few days in step down and
plans to take him home were being discussed. Then the developed an
infection from the shunt. It seemed so unfair to come through so much
only to be struck down by an infection caused by improper care of an
IV. Lucky in all things, my father had a staph infection that would be
With all muscles atrophied, he was barely able to move. He spent
another week or so in a rehab center, then home. It was a glorious
That fall was a slow time. My father struggled to regain his
strength and an understanding of what had happened to him. A
workaholic, he had to face the possibility of leaving his 42 year
career as a procurement officer for the Defense Department. On the
bright side, there was no paralysis and no pain, and he had survived.
In January, an MRI showed that he had a tumor in his kidney. Once
again, luck was on his side as he had the "good" renal cancer that
could be cured by removing his kidney. And he continued to heal.
Now, he is officially retired and doing quite well. He can do more
than we ever expected, but not everything he could do before.
This site has been so helpful to my father -- dissected aortas are
not common. Sharing stories is one way to feel like there is hope and
you're not alone.
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