‘Miracle’ Patient Survives Aortic Dissection

Condition often proves fatal for half of victims within 48 hours

FORT WORTH, Texas – December 18, 2017 — Many patients with an aortic dissection die before making it to a hospital.

“Unfortunately, an aortic dissection is a dire, if not fatal, situation for most patients,” said Dr. Michael Nazarian, a cardiothoracic surgeon on the Texas Health Fort Worth medical staff. “Close to 33 percent die within the first 24 hours, while 50 percent die within 48 hours. Immediate medical attention is critical to survival, and every minute counts.”

In an aortic dissection, the inner layer of the blood vessel tears, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate; if the blood ruptures through the blood vessel, most oftentimes it leads to death. Fixing a case involves quick surgical intervention and follow-up care as the heart recovers.

Texas Health Harris Methodist Fort Worth works to address the needs of patients suffering from aortic dissections, as well as other critical cardiac complications. Recognized recently by U.S. News and World Report for high performance in abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, heart bypass surgery and heart failure, surgeons on the Texas Health Fort Worth medical staff provide patients with advanced diagnostics along with a wide range of invasive heart and vascular procedures.

Thanks to the quick actions of Nazarian and Dr. William Anderson, a fellow cardiothoracic surgeon on the Texas Health Fort Worth medical staff, one young mother of two is grateful not to be a fatal statistic.

“They kept saying I was a ‘miracle’ patient,” said Mary Wortham. “I credit my survival to God and being in the right hands at the right time.”

Wortham survived an aortic dissection earlier this year. The National Institutes of Health determined that close to 10,000 people fall victim to one every year.

Most patients who suffer from an aortic dissection are between 40 and 70 years old, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Wortham is just 35.

Anderson, who has performed more than 6,500 open heart procedures, opted for an intricate procedure to fix Wortham’s dissection. He performed an eight-hour aortic root reconstruction, known as a Bentall procedure. During surgery, Anderson repaired Wortham’s aortic root, which is the large section of the aorta leaving the heart, along with both of her severely damaged coronary arteries.

“As bad as her situation was, Mary had a strong family support group and a positive attitude,” Anderson said. “I think both helped her overcome her traumatic experience.”

But both surgeons credit another component to her survival — extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). About the size of a small suitcase, the ECMO machine pumps blood through an artificial lung back into the bloodstream of the patient. According to Nazarian, ECMO is a simplified version of a heart and lung machine, except the process takes place outside of the body.

Even after surgery, Wortham’s heart was weak, and it needed assistance pumping blood. “If the heart can’t pump blood, your organs start to die off, and everything ends up taking a drastic hit,” Nazarian said. “Without doing ECMO, I don’t think she would’ve made it too far.”

Although Wortham spent seven days on ECMO and more than a month in the hospital, she’s alive and encouraging others to take note of her experience. “I thought an irregular heartbeat every now and then after a workout was normal. I found out otherwise,” Wortham said. “People need to share abnormalities with their doctor, no matter how minor they think it is. It could be life-saving information.”

To learn more about common red flags for serious heart problems, visit Texas Health Fort Worth heart and vascular services for more information about cardiac care.

About Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources is one of the largest faith-based, nonprofit health systems in the United States. The health system, which along with UT Southwestern founded Southwestern Health Resources in 2016 to make it easier for North Texans to access the highest quality care consistently in a responsive and coordinated manner, includes 29 hospital locations that are owned, operated, joint-ventured or affiliated with Texas Health Resources. It includes Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas, Texas Health Arlington Memorial, Texas Health Harris Methodist and Texas Health Huguley Hospitals, Texas Health Physicians Group, outpatient facilities, behavioral health and home health, preventive and fitness services, and an organization for medical research and education. For more information about Texas Health Resources, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit www.TexasHealth.org.

SOURCE: Texas Health