Walt Conger Survives Aortic Dissection and is on the road to Heartosaurus!

My name is Walt Conger.  I am a 38 year old male, married with a nine year old son, and a six year old daughter. Prior to the events that are described below, I was in the best shape of my life. I had recently lost over thirty pounds, and was a bicycling enthusiast that rode nearly twenty miles per day on my Trek Madone 5.1.

The Surgery,
On Tuesday October 5th and Wednesday October 6th I had not been feeling very well. I had been having a lot of body aches and shortness of breath which is not uncommon for my once a year brush with bronchitis. Finally, on the morning of Thursday October 7th, I decided to go to the doctors. I was told that I was suffering from a nasty virus that had been going around. The doctor did hear a murmur, and asked if I had ever been told before that I have a murmur. I stated that I was told six months prior that I had a murmur but it was very faint. I was told that this was not faint at all and I was given an EKG. The EKG showed nothing out of order and I was told that an Echo Gram would be scheduled for a later time. I finished up my work day as normal and entered into the evening feeling pretty lousy. At around midnight, I went to bed. My jaw was so achy, that I had to sit up in order to alleviate the intense pounding. At about 12:30am, I went to the basement to watch some TV, as I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to sleep anytime soon. As it neared 1:00am, the intensity of the pain and pounding in my jaw got worse and I started to have chest pains. The pain became so intense, that I did not know if I was going to be able to make it back upstairs. I did make it up, and my wife called 911. After about 15 minutes, the ambulance arrived.

The Paramedics ran an EKG and other tests as they were about to take me to my local hospital. The test did not show that I was having a heart attack.  On my way to the hospital, I received a couple Nitrous pills and by the time I arrived at the hospital, the pain had subsided. At this point, I was sure that I was just suffering from the virus. After a battery of tests, they decided to run me through a CAT scan. The news of the result of this test will forever change my life.

Not too long after the CAT scan test, the doctor came in and said that I had suffered an Aortic Dissection caused by an Aortic Aneurysm. I was told that this could quickly turn catastrophic and that they would immediately need to begin to slow my heart rate down for emergency open heart surgery.
I do not remember anything from about this time, which was 5:30am on Friday October 8th, until mid morning on Sunday October 10th. I have been told that I did talk to people before the surgery, but I do not remember it.

One of the big concerns was my heart valve. The hospital that I was at thought that it was possible that it did not need to be replaced and knew that the best place to send me would be the U of M Hospital in Ann Arbor. This decision was made, and a team was available, and they took me by helicopter to U of M. At approximately 9:40am, I entered into an eleven hour emergency open heart surgery. The tear that I suffered was nearly my entire Aorta, and nearly my entire Arch was replaced with a Dacron graft. The rest of the tear will be monitored closely. The technical term of my Dissection was a Type A Acute Root Aneurysm.

The odds that were given were that nine out of ten people, who suffer the Aneurism/Dissection, do not make it into an operating room. If you do make it into an operating room, than one out of four do not survive the surgery.

Post Surgery,
I was told that I would be in the hospital 7-10 days, but left after 5 days. I was requesting at least one extra day, but I appreciated the surgeon taking the time to explain to me why he thought it would be best to get home as soon as possible. A good part of the reason is to get back to a familiar environment as there is many times depression that could come with having a surgery such as this. I came home on Wednesday October 13th. I am now approximately ten weeks post surgery and am recovering. I have had some difficulties with PVC’s (Heart fluttering), and some other issues. I have made a few trips to Ann Arbor to see specialists about my issues. I have an appointment in February for a follow up CAT scan, as well as an Echo Gram to see how I am progressing. No one knows what could have caused my Dissection as I have never had high blood pressure, there are no issues in my family history and I have never smoked.

I am going through daily struggles, but am thankful to be alive.

Walt Conger
IM – waltsem


R Leybaert said...

Wish you all the best. They discovered an ascending aorta aneurysm combined with a bicuspid valve during a CT scan when i had a pulmonary embolism. It's 5.2 cm wide and my surgeon advises surgery which is planned on 11 february 2011. The annoying thing is that currently i feel in perfect shape(and still run); it's (very) frightening to look forward to such heavy surgery when you feel ok (nightmares of all those tubes). But my surgeon says we cann't wait for the 'silent killer to wake-up'. It's very comforting to read that there is still life after surgery and i sincerely hope to be able to run another marathon. By the way, very nice bike you got. I hope you will be able to fully enjoy it during next summer.

Walt said...

R Leybaert,

I will be thinking of you on February 11th. How old are you? I know that it must be hard to anticipate the surgery. In my case, I went into the hospital, and two days later woke up having had open heart surgery. On one side, I did not have to anticipate the surgery, but there is still so much trauma with the way that it happened to me. I wish that I had an opportunity to see other survivors and hear that there is life after surgery, but I woke up in a world of uncertainty. I can tell you that the way to look at it is that you cannot go backwards and change things, but you can be awfully thankful that the aneurysm was found. There is support out there from people like myself. Reach out to this support system and friends.

- Walt

Tanya Doran said...

On Oct. 4th at 1:30 AM my husband who was 43 years old said he was dizzy and that was the last he said to me for almost 2 months. His eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed onto the bed on top of me. He had suffered a full blown Aortic Dissection which caused a bi-lateral eschemic infarction. Upon arriving at the hospital I was told to prepare myself to lose him because the odds that he would make it through surgery were less than 1%. The fact he even made it to the hospital at all had already defied the odds. They told me to call his family and mine so they could say their goodbyes. 16 hours later, I was given the news that he had actually made it through the surgery but that he was in a coma and would probably never come out of it. I was told that I needed to make a choice to keep him on lifesupport or to pull the plug and see what happened. I told them to give him some time. Two weeks later my husband opened his eyes, he didn't speak but he was turning his head to his name. The doctor's at first said that is was not conscious and it was just auto-responses. They showed me his MRI and told me that he would never speak, walk, or make a conscious action again and that I should again think of pulling the plug. I told them no, give him more time, he was fighting. 2 weeks go by and he is now following people with his eyes and breathing on his own without the ventillator. Dr's are amazed and literally keep standing at the end of the bed saying amazing more than any other word. They are not able to say it is auto-rosponsive now but conscious following. 2 more weeks and he actually speaks his first words to answer questions yes and no. He is now moving parts of his body and shedding tears. Dr's say amazing. 2 weeks more and he is speaking more words, he remembers me and our son. He is trying to get out of bed and has round the clock watchers to keep him in bed. Yes, he has problems with his organs for now and he does not remember about 3 years of his life but he is beating this thing. Flash Foward to today February 3rd 2011, today he is home and walking and even carrying conversations. He has a large memory loss and has a whole lot of problems with short term memory and mentally is about the age of 8 but is "aging" about a year every couple weeks now. He is feeding himself, showering, shaving and learning how to do everything again but he is doing it. He is writing and reading and even starting to do stuff on the computer again. Moral of this story? Never let anyone tell you that there is no hope and that something cannot be achieved.

Tanya Doran

Just remember that you can do anything with a lot of work and patience. Oh and he just had his 44th birthday even though they said he wouldn't see it.

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