For Michael Weisgarber, a special-education teacher at Orange Ulster BOCES, a two-week summer vacation was right around the corner.
But, at his Suffern home on Aug. 12, 2018, he felt a pain in his chest that quickly escalated. “I could tell it was more than just heartburn,” said Weisgarber, 51. He had trouble catching his breath and experienced pain and weakness in his legs.
A neighbor drove him to Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth), a few miles away. Quick evaluation in the Emergency Department, including a CT scan, revealed he was not having a heart attack but was instead suffering from an aortic dissection, a rare and even more life-threatening problem that requires immediate surgery.
Luckily, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Chirag Badami was working that Sunday. He knew how serious the situation was.
Badami called his colleague, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Cary Passik, to come in on his day off because this complex operation required the expertise of more than one surgeon. He also called his wife. “It was her birthday, and I told her I couldn’t take her out to dinner,” Badami said.
An aortic dissection occurs when a tear forms in the inner layer of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body. As blood flows through the tear, it causes the layers of the aorta to separate, or dissect, and fill with blood. The resulting obstruction can block blood vessels and blood flow in and out of the heart as well as cause blood leakage that can lead to shock. If this channel bursts, it can cause quick and fatal blood loss.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, aortic dissection occurs in about 2 out of every 10,000 people.
“It’s not terribly common,” said Passik. “The problem is that mortality without an emergency operation goes up about 1 percent per hour for the first 48 hours, so there is a need to get going as quickly as possible.”
Continue reading Weisgarber's story of recovery via Advancing Care in the Hudson Valley.
For more about cardiothoracic surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital, call 845.368.8800.