Healthbeat: Susquehanna County man undergoes open-heart surgery, shares story of aortic dissection diagnosis

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KINGSLEY, SUSQUEHANNA COUNTY (WBRE 28/WYOU 22 EYEWITNESS NEWS) — Heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest often come to mind when we think about serious conditions of the heart, but there’s another everyone should be aware of.

It’s called an aortic dissection which can be a challenging diagnosis and often proves fatal.

It is at Geisinger Community Medical Center where in early April a Susquehanna County man showed up in the Emergency Department with a symptom he refused to ignore. That decision to seek immediate medical help ultimately saved his life.

As a retired mechanic, Walter Singer knows a whole lot about what happens under the hood of a car. But the 59-year-old Kingsley man hadn’t a clue what was happening inside his chest just a couple of months earlier. What started as a few weeks of what seemed like indigestion seriously escalated in a single day with what he says felt like a muscle spasm in his neck.

“But then when it got a little bit like stabbing me, I said ‘you know hey it ain’t going away’,” Singer said.

He decided to get it checked out immediately at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton where he was admitted that night and then diagnosed with an aortic dissection, a tear of the inner layer of the aorta causing blood to pool in the heart and preventing blood flow to vital organs.

“The aorta is the big tube that takes blood to the rest of your body so depending on… and these tears, they kind of spiral. What branches off the aorta are affected, they can get different symptoms but the most common is they feel a pop or excruciating chest pain that goes right to their mid-back,” Geisinger Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Joseph Stella said.

Dr. Stella and his surgical team performed a complex, nine-hour procedure repairing the aortic dissection, treating an aortic root aneurysm and re-implanting Singer’s coronary arteries. The chance of survival? About 10 percent.

“Mr. Singer is very fortunate. These are life-threatening conditions,” Dr. Stella said.

“I had blood in my stomach. My valve was dripping and they had to drain a gallon of blood out of me,” Singer said.

Almost fully recovered, Singer has this advice about any unusual symptoms you may have.

“You know your body. It’s best to get it checked,” Singer said.

Singer will permanently remain on medication and have to have his heart checked every so often, something he considers a small price to pay for his new lease on life.

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