Personal Stories: Scott Shockley

I suffered a descending aortic dissection on a Friday afternoon in January of 1995 at the age of 32. The original sensation was a zipping sensation in my chest as I was eating a chicken salad sandwich with a friend of my in the US Senate cafeteria. I tried to walk to the first aid station but collapsed in the stair way and was rushed to the George Washington University Hospital emergency room in Washington DC.

After having been miss-diagnosed and released from the GW emergency room (and two other ER's that I went to over the weekend) I returned to GW on Monday complaining of residual chest pain and back pain. They gave me muscle relaxants for the back pain and sent me on my way. I suffered for a week with my right leg going numb if I walked for any long distances.

The next week I went to my local home town medical doctor in Snow Hill Maryland for a physical, and this 70 year old doctor noticed a few clues that had been missed by the ER. Looking at the same x-ray taken by GW, he noticed that my aorta was swollen. He also noticed that the blood pressure in my ankle was lower on the left hand side of my body then the right. He sent me for an echocardiogram at a nearby medical center.

The technologist went white as a sheet while giving me an exam and hurried out of the room to retrieve the doctor. After reviewing the scan they sent me to the emergency room of the nearest hospital (Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury Maryland) in a wheel chair refusing my instance that I could walk.

After further examination at the hospital, they were able to diagnose the dissection and after a few days of extensive tests I had cardio-vascular surgery. They operated from the back and repaired the tear. I recovered for a month and was finally able to return to work.

The following month I suffered from an ascending aortic dissection. Went I felt the sensation again, I knew what it was and this time I refused to go to the nearest hospital and took a taxi to Georgetown University Hospital. My cardiologist from Salisbury called Georgetown ER and told them to expect me. After getting the white glove treatment and escorted to a bed (no insurance info, no wait) I passed out in the ER.

Georgetown University performed open heart surgery and replaced my aortic valve with a St. Judes Aortive valve and replaced the upper aorta (but not the carotid arteries). I was in an induced coma for a week while they waited for me to stabilize and then was released a month later.

After my recovery, I took part in a genetic study at the National Institute of Health where they diagnosed me with a connective tissue disorder (not Marfans). I have two older uncles who passed away from aortic dissection and a third who has recovered from an aortic dissection without surgery.

I was fine for ten years while being monitored by Johns Hopkins University. In 2005 I underwent surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm which was the result of the pressure on my lower aorta now that 70% of the upper aorta and been replaced.

To this day, 95% of my aorta has been replaced and I go for annual scans at Johns Hopkins.

I cloud go into greater detail and could provide more detailed information but wanted to just hit the high points since mine is such an involved case.

As you have mentioned, this diagnoses is often over looked especially in younger patients. They think mine was triggered by being hit by a car while riding my bicycle two months before I even felt my first symptoms.

Anyone that has suffered a blunt force trauma, and is suffering from chest pain and/or back pain, and show no signs of a heart attack, should absolutely insist on a MRI or CT scan, or at the least an echocardiogram.

If there is anything I can do to help others by giving them hope and providing information, please let me know.

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