PLAINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – When you think of serious heart problems, faulty valves and blockages may come to mind. But there’s another heart condition that kills 20 percent of those before they ever get to the hospital.
That condition is called aortic dissection and it killed such notables as Albert Einstein, Lucille Ball and Alan Thicke. Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller met a Hanover Township man who experienced this health threat that nearly cost him his life.
“It felt as if someone stuck two knives in my back and tried to… was tearing them apart.” The source of sudden back pain Rick Stevens felt one day in December 2015 was actually coming from his chest. “The pain grew and I knew there was something wrong.”
Rick was rushed to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center where an emergency department cardiologist determined the problem. “He told me I had a tear in my aorta and I really wasn’t sure what that meant.”
Cardiothoracic Surgeon Deepak Singh, MD showed Rick’s CT scan that revealed the tear or aortic dissection which allowed blood to seep around Rick’s heart. “If it presents, there is a chance to fix it and save the patient’s life but you’ve got to think about it right away and jump on it immediately,” said Dr. Singh who rushed Rick into surgery and performed an eleven hour operation.
Dr. Singh used a dacron graft which is a tube-shaped, felt-like material to repair the damage. So how did Rick who was an otherwise healthy 43-year-old man at the time suffer his near-death aortic dissection? Dr. Singh said, “I think Rick had a double whammy. He had both high blood pressure and he had a bicuspid aortic valve.”
A bicuspid valve meant Rick’s valve had only two leaflets instead of three to control blood flow from the heart into the aorta. Now 45-years-old, this married father of 17-year-old twins has a heart back in good working order. “I’m very lucky. You know, a lot of people don’t survive aortic dissections.”
Rick is thankful for his co-workers at Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority in Hanover Township who recognized the seriousness of his condition that day and called an ambulance. Rick now sees doctors several times a year and takes blood pressure medication. He will also take part in the NEPA Heart Walk April 28th at PNC Field in Moosic.