Wednesday, September 11, 2019

What My First Crush and My First True Love Have in Common Pt 1.

If you've been here for any length of time, you know I choose this day every year to bring awareness to aortic dilation/dissection which is the heart condition that took John Ritter on this day 16 years ago.

(via John Ritter Foundation)

He was on the set of his show 8 Simple Rules when he fell ill.  He began to complain of nausea and chest pains.  They treated it like a normal heart attack, and 4 hours later, he was gone.  He had an aortic valve enlargement that eventually manifested in a thoracic aortic dissection.  If the doctors had done an MRI or CT scan (the only way to detect it clearly) or knew of this condition ahead of time, he could have been saved.  Because of John's death, his brother, whom he looked out for his whole life, was able to be saved after having a scan.  The likelihood of finding this condition before a catastrophic event is rare as it is not something they specifically look for.  If it is ever found, it is usually found by accident...just like the Mr discovered his.

That's right.  The Mr has the same condition that took John, and our lives have not been the same since hearing this news.  He found it by a fluke.  It all started the week I made some habanero salsa.  I was adding it in everything, quinoa, tacos on top of fish because I made a big batch.  The Mr isn't a spicy food guy but loves that salsa.  When he had a weird pain in his chest, he mentioned it to me, and I asked if he wanted to go to the doctor.  He said no, but we'd go to Urgent Care if it gets worse.  This was less than 2 weeks after Luke Perry passed away and we also had Kevin Smith on our minds who suffered a heart attack the year before.  The next morning he was still feeling it a little but thought it was gas, and I didn't question him but was keeping my eye on him.  At 4pm, he said, "can you please take me to Urgent Care?"  I still wasn't worried about him having a heart attack because there weren't any other symptoms, but I wasn't going to mess around with his health.  They took him in immediately and couldn't do anything but refer him to the ER up the street.  They called telling them to expect him, and they got him right in.  They did an EKG, took all vitals and got him back for an x-ray.  He was not having a heart attack and based on where he was saying the pain was, the doc assumed heartburn but wanted him to do a stress test to make sure.  He did the treadmill stress test, and two hours later they were leaving a message on our machine confirming he had a good strong heart and oh, by the way, this aortic root dilation of 4.2cm but no biggie just watch it yearly.  The way it was mentioned so cavalierly on the voice mail, 90% of people would've assumed it was no big deal but just follow up in a few days with the family doc.   We both began furiously looking that up online, and it was quite the big deal.  I looked up cardiologists that got the best reviews on as well as our insurance company and wrote down my top three that specialized in his condition.  We made an appointment, and it was two months away before we could get in which was devastating.  So many questions and only "Dr. Google" to confer with.

When I saw it was the same condition John had, the same thing that took Alan Thicke (also undiagnosed) and knowing what could happen I nearly passed out but went straight into research mode. But I can only imagine how he felt.   We followed up with the family doctor, and she was also very blase about the finding, but we should probably "touch base" with a cardiologist to establish a relationship.  We looked up a lot and found that finding this out early was indeed a blessing because that meant we could watch it and prepare for the potential of heart surgery down the road if need be.   We saw that in 20% of cases, it can be genetic and while we don't like people all up in our business, we felt we needed to tell his immediate family.  He particularly wanted to tell his one sibling with whom he shares a very similar vascular makeup.  He told his mom and she told his other sibling to get checked.  At that point, he learned that his "no heart issues" family actually had a long line of heart issues including a self-healing heart attack his mother had that she didn't tell anyone about when she found out.  Heart issues go back several lines of generations (thanks to one family member being into genealogy) though not this particular issue.  That really threw the Mr for a loop because this whole time, he'd been lead to believe at least there were no heart issues and they actually had this info for 10 years.  He said it almost felt like a kick in the gut and like he was damaged goods because he'd always been told he came from a line of "good, strong hearts."   Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, folks.  We also learned this can be caused by chest trauma.  The Mr has taken several hard falls over the past 6 years and he started wondering if he did this to himself.  There is no way to know and it wouldn't matter anyway.  We had to deal with the condition, not the cause and answers were not going to be in our grasp to his particular situation in quite a while.

We researched and found out that there were potentially restrictions for him especially with the hard workouts we do.  Some doctors told people online absolutely no full push-ups or pull-ups, no sit-ups, no heavy lifting which varied from no more than 50 lbs to half of someone's body weight.  Because we weren't going to have answers for at least 2-3 months, I immediately put the smack down on him with that.  No lifting over 50 lbs and this meant loading stuff in the car, the huge, heavy umbrella weights, no helping me move the Grillzilla out back that weighs 150 lbs like he did 6x the previous summer.  (My mind went to the worst places thinking about what could've happened when we didn't know.)  Crunches only, push-ups against the wall and burpees done off of folding chairs, so it only uses a small percentage of his body weight.  He told his remote co-worker about it who is a ski patrol EMT and he made no bones about it that if it dissects, it would not be good (he was more graphic--a-hole) and he needed to touch base with the EMT's on-site at work to let them know, which he did.  He told his boss and supervisor about it.  I printed a note that said, "aortic aneurysm, take to cardiac hospital" in case he went down when I wasn't with him and the same on his phone.  He used the opportunity to get an Apple watch as it does heart monitoring, has fall detection that notifies ER contacts and 911 if no response is given and can do on the spot ECG's if he feels weird.  We got him a more modern looking medical bracelet, and I am thankful to say he didn't give me any issue with any of it. 

If I could've put him in a big bubble and pulled him everywhere we needed to go, I would have.  I tried to be strong, but sometimes that just wasn't in the cards.  I went to dark places and trying to hold it together often ended in tears in private and in front of him.  Trying to say the right things but saying the wrong thing would leave me with immense guilt.  He was my rock.  I couldn't and didn't want to live without him.  Then I noticed when we would go out anywhere on the weekend, I began getting panic attacks because what if we were in a car accident?  Chest trauma can cause dissection and an airbag hitting your chest at 100-220 mph could be a death sentence.  Some car rides, especially early on, I would sit with my sunglasses on, tears streaming down my face terrified.  A few times I had to even sit on my hands to stop them from shaking.  I found these seat belt covers which have 3 1/2" of cushion and double as neck pillows when you're pulling over for a nap on long road trips.  They were irritating at first but we got used to them and even if it was a false sense of security, I felt better knowing there was a little something extra to take the potential blow of an airbag.

We'd done all we could do to protect his life and now we had to wait and like Tom Petty said: "the waiting is the hardest part."  Come back tomorrow for part two.

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  1. Wow! You hinted at one time there were issues but never came out with the information so I was always wondering. Thank you for sharing this, awareness helps in so many ways.

  2. I am thankful that I have the best advocate a patient could ask for. I hadn't realized how much you were struggling with just being in the car but I knew the worst thing I could do was be a stubborn man and not accept the advice you were giving me in terms of restrictions. I certainly don't want to push things. In the end, carrying a heavy load isn't worth dying for. But I have to admit I never realized just how often that situation presents itself in terms of just being a "big strong guy" and being expected to be able to lift anything and everything for people. It has been hard to adjust to that without feeling a little broken but I'm trying to look at it like I finally get to relax!

  3. How scary! I know you talked about heart health issues and doctor visits, but I had no idea it was this serious. I'm so glad you found out when you did so treatment is an option. *hugs to you both*


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