Personal Stories: Steve Atkatz

I guess that I'm one of the luckiest guys around. The series of events leading up to my aortic dissection, repair and recovery defies all laws of probability.

I see a lot of mentions of faith on this website but, considering the life I've led for the last 75 years, I'm way down the list on those who deserve to survive.

For the last six years I had been participating in a study by Columbia University going for early detection of lung cancer and/or COPD in elderly smokers and ex-smokers. Along with an annual physical examination they did a CT scan of your chest. Last September the CT scan picked up an enlargement of the root of my aorta to 5.4 cm. They promptly forwarded the results to my cardiologist. I'd had an MI 15 years prior and had since been followed by a cardiologist. When he saw this he was concerned, but we decided to wait 6 months and do another CAT scan to see if it had expanded any.

Thanksgiving Eve 2007 my wife made dinner for the whole family including kids, grandkids, etc. She outdid herself and at the end of the dinner I stood up to make a toast with her world class rum and brandy egg nog. I never made the toast, instead it felt like someone had stuck a sword thru my chest. A call was made to 911 and the paramedics were there in minutes [they must have been having coffee right around the corner]. I was still conscious as they bundled me up I told them about the enlarged aorta and my prior history. Also I requested Columbia Presbyterian hospital where all my records and doctors were and which was <5 minutes away by ambulance. They said, "No problem, we work there".

I was still awake at the ER and told the doctor there my history. He bypassed a whole bunch of routine stuff and rushed me to the CT scan. It seems that Alan Stewart the chief honcho of the Cardio-Thoracic surgery unit and one of the top surgeons in the field world wide was, by some fluke, on his way in on Thanksgiving Eve and would operate on me. Wife, daughter and the rest of my entourage were then thrown out and I went to surgery.

It seems the dissection went from the root of the aorta to almost where it splits by the navel, went up one of the carotids, down the subclavian artery, and into a few other places. It took 6 1/2 hours with me on the pump to get everything patched up. Incidentally I also got a bovine [that's a cow's] aortic valve as a replacement for my human one as a bonus.

I'm not even going to go into my convalescence, including weeks of mostly unconsciousness, delusions, manic behavior and some pretty wild dreams. All what I see referred to here on the website as "pump head" behavior. As well as two weeks in the psycho division while the rest of my neurons aligned themselves.

Anyway, here we are 9 months later, I'm pretty much back to normal except for some soreness in my sacroiliac joints due to all the time flat on my back. I've even gone back to doing a little management consulting again with some old clients that either need me or pity me. I couldn't care less as long as they pay.

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