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Surviving an Aortic Tear: A Miraculous Journey of Healing and Hope

CEO Tinh Phung
Surviving an aortic dissection is a tale not all patients live to tell. For Eric Salter, living through this traumatic experience was nothing short of miraculous. What's even more remarkable is the life-changing care he...

Surviving an aortic dissection

Surviving an aortic dissection is a tale not all patients live to tell. For Eric Salter, living through this traumatic experience was nothing short of miraculous. What's even more remarkable is the life-changing care he received from his Mayo Clinic cardiologists, who are committed to helping him live a long and fulfilling life.

A Life-Threatening Event

Eric Salter was a 42-year-old runner in the prime of his life when, on his daughter's 11th birthday, he suffered a life-threatening aortic dissection while sitting at his home office desk. This condition occurs when the inner layer of the aorta tears, causing the inner and middle layers to separate. Eric underwent emergency surgery at a local medical center, where his damaged aorta was repaired, and his bicuspid aortic valve was replaced with a mechanical valve.

The Beginning of a Medical Voyage

Although Eric was told that his aorta was fixed and the ordeal was over, it was just the beginning of a medical journey that would span several years. Eric's path led him to Mayo Clinic in Florida, where he met Dr. Sabrina Phillips, a cardiologist, and eventually to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where he underwent surgery with Dr. Alberto Pochettino, a cardiovascular surgeon. The Mayo Clinic team guided Eric through the monitoring of his dissected aorta and provided the necessary surgical treatment to correct the initial repair. They also established a plan of action to address any future issues that may arise.

"On May 10, 2017, I was told I had an aortic dissection and was flown by helicopter to another hospital," recalls Eric. "I had just eight minutes to say goodbye to my wife and record a message to my two daughters. I prayed the entire time in the helicopter: 'Lord Jesus, please just give me one more day. I don't want to die on my daughter's birthday.' I only asked for one more day, and I'm blessed with a lot more than that. I'm not completely back to normal, but I can do just about anything I want to do and have a lot to be thankful for. It usually doesn't turn out that way for patients like me."

The Persistence of a Problem

Surviving an aortic dissection is a significant victory in itself. Nearly 18% of patients do not survive the event, and 21% pass away within 24 hours if they don't receive immediate surgery. However, after successfully repairing the initial dissection, surgeons often declare victory, even though the aorta may not be completely restored to its normal state.

Eric, unaware of the need for regular follow-up imaging, thought his problem was fixed after his initial surgery. Joining a support group for aortic dissection survivors brought Eric in contact with others who were on different treatment paths. This led him to seek a second opinion at Mayo Clinic, where he met Dr. Phillips. It was during this consultation that Eric discovered that his dissection was still present beyond the area of repair.

A Crucial Surgery and a Fresh Perspective

After being recommended for surgery, Eric and his wife, Madelen, traveled to Mayo Clinic in Rochester to meet Dr. Pochettino. He explained the intricacies of Eric's condition and the proposed surgical repair. Eric, appreciating the in-depth conversation and the knowledge it provided, decided to move forward with the surgery. The operation, which lasted 12 hours, successfully repaired Eric's damaged tissues.

In the months following surgery, Eric continued to have regular follow-up appointments and CT scans to monitor his aorta. The possibility of requiring future surgeries weighs heavily on Eric and Madelen, but they find solace in the care they have received at Mayo Clinic.

"I've only been home for five months since the surgery, and almost every time I meet people going through medical challenges, I end up saying, 'You may want to go to Mayo just to get a second opinion, even if you feel like you're doing OK, and you don't feel like you need one,'" says Eric. "Plain and simple, my decision to get a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville saved my life. The postoperative care and follow-up plan I've received from Mayo Clinic have extended my life and allowed me to spend many more days with my family."

As Eric continues on his journey of healing and hope, he remains grateful for the medical expertise and compassionate care he has received from Mayo Clinic.

This article was based on the original article "Sharing Mayo Clinic: Surviving an aortic tear and living to navigate its aftermath" from Mayo Clinic.