In October 2008, at 28 years of age, Melissa experienced an aortic dissection while 35 weeks pregnant with her first child. After emergency surgery, she underwent two other surgeries that year for further repair of other aortic aneurysms. During this time period, she was diagnosed with Loeys-Dietz syndrome.
Here is Melissa's story, in her own words.
On October 19, 2008 I survived a Type I aortic dissection. I was thirty – five weeks pregnant with our first child, a little boy, and had been hospitalized for high blood pressure just two days before. That Sunday morning felt like any other morning. Besides being very pregnant and in the hospital on bed rest, I felt just fine. With no hesitation, I stepped into the tub to take a hot shower. I leaned my head back and into the stream of water. Then, suddenly, a pain hit me. It wasn’t in my chest, as I certainly would have expected it to be, but in my teeth. Everything went black for a second, and I remember thinking that my teeth were going to crack into a million pieces. I felt too hot and faint. My jaw tightened and then I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I grabbed onto the side of the tub and screamed my husband’s name.
I had no idea what was wrong with me, but I did insist, to my husband, the nurse, and then the doctor, that something was indeed wrong. Doctors decided to deliver the baby via an emergency C – section. Our seven pound beautiful little boy was born just minutes later. I was elated but still felt “like a bulldozer was sitting on my chest.” Chest X-rays came back clean, but finally, a CT scan revealed the huge dissection, originating in the ascending aorta and extending to beyond my kidneys. I kissed my little boy goodbye and was loaded onto a helicopter bound for the nearest trauma center and my second surgery of the day.
That moment was the hardest moment of my life, and the weeks that followed were some of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced as complications continued to arise. I was completely overjoyed when I finally returned home six weeks later. Doctors suspected that I may have a connective tissue disorder, and I was officially diagnosed with Loeys – Dietz in May 2009. My geneticist called me at my home and in her strong Turkish accent told me that my Loeys – Dietz test came back positive. “Now, it all makes sense,” I thought to myself: “the pectus excavatum I was born with, the hypermobile joints, and the dissection.”
In June ’09, just nine months after my dissection, a follow – up CT scan revealed a 6.2 cm aneurysm near the top of my descending aorta. Only the ascending aorta had been repaired during my first surgery and, now the entire aorta, weak and dissected, needed to be replaced. Dr. Chad Hughes of Duke University Medical Center replaced my entire descending aorta in July 2009. The thoraco-abdominal incision begins near the top of my left shoulder blade and wraps underneath my arm, around my rib cage, and down into my lower abdomen. That surgery was, by far, the most painful thing I’ve ever lived through. I recovered for only three months, and then on October 22 of the same year underwent my third surgery: a valve – sparing root replacement and aortic debranching procedure, which prepared my aortic arch for a less invasive stent.
Now, after three surgeries in just one year, I am home and awaiting that final stent procedure. I spend my days making up for lost time with my son, Nathanael, who is now just over one year old and thriving. I could never have made it through this without the help of my family. I have learned that life is the here and now. It is in my son’s eyes when he awakes in the morning and in my husband’s when we kiss goodnight. Life is what is beautiful. I know that now.