Personal Stories: The Bjork's Story told by Steve's wife-Cheryl

Surviving an Acute Thoracic Aortic Dissection

            Hi.  My name is Steve Bjork.  I live in Kent City, Michigan.  I would like to say “thank you” to all who prayed for me from around the country.

            Let me tell you a little about myself.  I am a 46 year old male who until eight years ago was self employed as a fruit grower on the family farm.  Economic times became challenging and we decided to sell the farm.  I went to work at a structural steel company driving a semi tractor-trailer.  My wife of 24 years is Cheryl and we have two children, Laura and Joel who are now 19 and 16.

            On May 4, 2007, our entire world changed – forever.  It was a Friday morning at about 9:00am and I was prepping an oversize load that I was to deliver to a job site in Holland, Michigan.  That is about all I remember for the next two weeks, although my family has very vivid memories of that time.  I remember the plant foreman running towards me as I lay on the ground in and out of consciousness, and the shop secretary telling me that an ambulance was on the way.  I heard the siren in the distance and then that is it.  The rest of the story I have read about in the journal that my wife kept.

            I was brought to Spectrum Health Downtown and was admitted through the emergency department.  My blood pressure was uncontrolled, tending to be on the low side, I was sweating profusely, and had shortness of breath.  They tell me that I was conscious and answered questions although I remember none of it.  They began running all sorts of tests to try to put the puzzle pieces together as I had no real complaints.  They checked a head CT for a hematoma or hemorrhage thinking  that possibly I had hit my head when I collapsed.  Was there an abnormality in the CT?  They couldn’t be sure.  It was suggested that I be transferred to another area hospital, however, the ER physician did not feel that I was stable enough to transfer.  An echocardiogram showed a small amount of fluid and/or blood around my heart, however, this could be normal they said.  The ER physician began consulting others, running lab tests, and ordering x-rays while trying to put everything together into a definitive diagnosis.  While I was being worked up by a neurosurgical physician’s assistant, we were interrupted for an angio CT of my chest.  It showed an acute thoracic aortic dissection ( a tear in the wall of the aorta) and I was immediately prepped for emergency surgery.  A cardio-thoracic surgeon was called. 

            They prepped me for surgery.  My blood pressure bottomed out to 50/30 and yet my wife says that I was still talking to her and told her and my daughter that “everything would be okay and that I loved them”.  They asked me if I had any questions and I simply asked “Are you going to put me out for this?”.  The surgical nurse said yes with a little chuckle.  The surgeon spoke very briefly with my family and explained the dissection.  Quite bluntly, it is well known as what caused the sudden death of the actor John Ritter.  Eight out of ten patients die before they get medical help and one out of four die on the operating table. 

            The surgery lasted over eight hours.  What showed to be a small amount of fluid around my heart was actually a liter of blood and my heart was lying off to one side hardly beating due to the pressure!    I was put on a heart/lung machine and a 2 ½ inch section of my aorta was replaced with a Dacron graft.  I was fortunate to have a very skilled surgeon who was particular and would not close my chest until there was no bleeding from the graft site.  He reported in after the surgery that he felt it was a success, however, the next 72 hours would tell.  The anesthesiologist warned my wife that I may experience surgical “flashbacks” once I was alert – which actually meant that due to my blood pressure being so low when I went into surgery, he was unable to administer the appropriate amount of anesthesia prior to the surgeon beginning the procedure.  I spent the night in the cardio-vascular recovery unit.  The news of my illness spread very quickly; family and friends surrounded my wife and children and began praying.  The Mamrelund Lutheran Church prayer chain began, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.  I am told that friends of friends were putting me on their prayer lists and prayer chains in Michigan as well as several other states.  It is amazing to me now how a person is living their own life one minute and then on the minds of so many others the next minute.  The morning after my surgery, the CVRU nurse that had cared for me that first night saw my wife and told her that he would say a  prayer for my recovery—someone that she had only met that night and who I would never meet.

            The next two weeks were like a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs.  Life in the surgical ICU is difficult for one’s family.   I was sedated for the first eight days at which time I was finally weaned off the ventilator.  I remained in the ICU for five more days, spent five days in a regular inpatient room, and was eventually transferred to an inpatient physical rehabilitation center for four days before finally being released to go home.   The morning of May 4th when I went to work it was still early in the Spring and everything still seemed brown.  I was amazed at how “green” everything looked the day that I got to come home! 

            Our family and friends literally wrapped their arms around my wife and children during this whole ordeal!  They received unbelievable support.  My wife has explained it as a time when she was literally frozen with fear, yet she felt a strong peace and reassurance; she truly believes that this was God’s presence the entire time.  I have always believed in the power of prayer, however, I didn’t always focus on it as I should.  Believe me, I will now always focus on prayer and the awesome power that it holds!

            I was able to be home for the Memorial Day holiday.  After that, there were several weeks of outpatient physical therapy.  I progressed quickly during these weeks and continued to improve despite a slight set back in mid August when I again was in the hospital due to fever, pericardial effusion and pleural effusion.  Again, prayer and the support of family and friends were the things that saw us through. 

            On September 24th I was officially released to return to work when yet another hurdle was put in front of me.  I now have some lifetime restrictions that will not allow me to return to my former job.  God gave me a new chance at life and with that comes the challenge of seeking out a new career.  Where do I begin?  I’m sure that He has plans for me!

            So once again, I would like to thank family and friends as well as the many strangers that prayed for me.  I appreciate it more than you will ever know.  The power of prayer is truly an amazing thing…..I am living proof!

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