Personal Stories: Suzie Ruiz

Hello, my name is Suzie. I was physically active in every sports. I ran at least 10 miles a week. I did aerobics 3 times a week. My friends would tell me to get on the Amazing Race show. They were sure I'd win. At 44 yrs old I was the oldest amongst my friends yet the most physically fit. BUT whenever I exercised I'd experienced pain & discomfort in my upper middle back, between my shoulder blades.

On July 21, 2007 while visiting my husband's family in Denver, CO. from Ramstein AB,Germany I experienced severe chest & back pain. I also experienced an image like a mirror had just shattered in my head & I couldn't see but grey colors all over. My husband, his family & the EMTs thought I was having a heart attack. I was given 2 baby aspirin by the EMT. God was watching over me that day because my sister & brother-in-law had requested a hospital that was closer to their house. The EMT on the other hand suggested a hospital that was farther away. I ended up at the latter one which I believe ultimately saved my life. I was rushed to the ER, I remember being asked questions like what I had eaten, was I on drugs etc. I don't remember much since I was semi-unconscious. Finally, they had a cardio surgeon who happened to be making rounds on that day, to come see me. He ordered a CT scan right away. I was diagnosed with having an aortic dissection.

My husband later told me, I was given only a 25% chance of survival with an Emergency Open Heart Surgery. Without one, I was not going to survive, so he had no choice but to sign the necessary paper work to get me into surgery. Within 2 hours I was on the operation table. The surgery took over 9 hours. I was told it was a very extensive process which involved the aortic root, the ascending aorta, the aortic arch, the descending aorta down to the level of the lilac arteries. Both carotid arteries were involved in the dissection. I woke up 4 days later with tubes, needles & machines connected to me. My husband broke the news that I had a long scar down my chest & that we weren't going back to Germany. I am sad not going back to Germany but very thankful to be alive.

Since then I have learned that it's extremely rare for an Asian like myself to have an aortic dissection esp. at such young age. The cause is still unknown. My father lived until he was 82 years old. My mother is 78 and I have 4 older siblings who are all healthy. I have been tested for Marfans Syndrome & Loeys-Dietz Syndrome. The test results were negative. My sons are followed closely by a pediatric cardiologist.

The cardiologist believes I had an a aneurysm years ago. Thinking back I remember going to the ER while we were stationed at RAF Lakenheath, U.K. (military base). Between 2002-2005 I visited the ER several times for numbness in my hands, pain in both shoulders & just not feeling right. I was just given Motrin & sent home. I'm not sure but maybe that was just the beginning? In 2006 while stationed in Germany I had neck & shoulder pains. The doctor ordered a CT scan on my neck & I started physical therapy on my neck. I was also diagnosed with hypertension at that time & started taking medication to lower my BP. I stopped taking my meds when my BP was back to normal with an approval from my doctor.

It has been 9 months since my surgery. There are good days & bad days. I'm on the treadmill daily for 30 minutes a day. I still get aches & pains between my shoulder blade. I feel my chest tighten almost every evening, I get pinching pain on the left side of my chest, I have difficulty breathing if I laid on my left side, I feel sored on my shoulders & I fatigue easily. I have discussed these with my doctor. He ordered a MRI, CT scan, a stress test & an echo. So far the MRI, CT scan & the stress test came back as "no changes". I go in on Monday for the echo.

Life has changed dramatically for me. I am not longer physically active. I can't stand or sit for long hours without my feet/toes getting swollen. But the one thing that hasn't changed is that I'm with my love ones. God sent Dr. Brants to give me a second chance in life. I get to see my sons & husband's smile, hear their laughter's, & I hope to be with them for many years to come.

Thank you so much Brian for creating this website. This website has been very helpful. I have a better understanding of my condition. I now know I'm not along.



Updated story as of 5/11/2008:

Hello Brian,

I'd like to update my story. My husband & I had an appt. w/ a cardiothorasic surgeon to go over my CT result. Besides having 2 leaking valves, I now have 3/4 blood clog in my descending aorta. But since blood is flooding normally into my other organs he doesn't believe I need surgery right now. The only way to repair this would be another Open Heart Surgery. He did increased my meds. He wants my BP to be as low as possible my body can tolerate.

Seems like I receive bad news everytime I have an echo or a CT. The 1st echo result after my surgery showed my aortic valve was leaking. The 2nd echo showed a 2nd valve leaking & then this.

My sons' 1st echo results showed both had abnormally enlarged aortas. We went to the Children Heart Inst. in Denver for a 2nd opinion. They didn't believe both boys' aortas were abnormal but just my younger son's was. I'm glad for my older son but sad for my other .... I prayed both boys would have normal aortas but that wasn't the case.

On top of the "not so nice" news, my husband left yesterday for a 6 months deployment. Being in a new place & not knowing anyone, he was my only friend & shoulders to cry on. My family is in Okinawa, Japan so I can't just pick up & go see them. But I'm trying my best to stay positive. I'm not going to give up. I believe in miracles. I have experienced a miracle already when my life was saved. I need to stay strong for my sons & my husband.

Thank you Brian, this is a place where I can share my story & know others understand what I'm going through.

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