As a healthy guy and Marine Corps veteran, squats and bench pressing heavy weights in his basement was pretty typical for 58-year-old Macomb County resident Jim North.
But one day after working out at his home in Harrison Township, when he sat at his desk upstairs, raised his arms above his head and stretched before returning to his IT work, something felt wrong.
“As soon as I straightened up, my heart started to feel funny,” North said. “Within 10 or 20 minutes, my back started hurting. When my wife happened to call, I said, ‘I think something may have happened to my heart.’ I was going to drive myself to the hospital. When I was changing, she called back and said 911 is showing up at the house.”
North had a spontaneous aortic dissection - a split in between the walls of the largest blood vessel in his body. It was March 25, 2019. Sometimes deemed genetic, sometimes due to injury or, most of the time, unexplainable, the condition can cause a person to bleed out and die within hours.
The ambulance took North to the nearest hospital in Mt. Clemens, where he and his wife, Karen, met with doctors in the emergency room.
“I asked them, if this was serious,” Karen North said. “They said it was life-threatening. They said they didn’t have the means to take care of him; they needed to get him someplace where they could take care of him. So, they called Beaumont in Royal Oak.”
Waiting at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak was Dr. Alessandro Vivacqua, medical director of the Beaumont Aortic Center and an expert in surgery for aortic dissection. In an 8-hour procedure, Dr. Vivacqua and his highly qualified team encased the ruptured section of aorta in a Dacron fabric sleeve, sealing off the leak. After nine days in the hospital, Jim spent the next couple of months walking and climbing stairs to build back his strength and stamina. He returned to work just seven weeks later.
Key in an aortic emergency is a coordinated, timely response – before the patient bleeds out or the rupture causes damage to other organs, said Beaumont vascular surgeon Dr. O. William Brown, chairman of the section of vascular surgery at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, and an integral member of the Aortic Center team. The Beaumont Aortic Center offers 24/7 aortic response in emergencies, providing immediate assistance to patients as well as referring hospitals and physicians for acute and chronic aortic dissections, aortic aneurysms and aortic trauma.
“The fact that Jim didn’t wait when he experienced sudden pain, as well as the coordinated response between the referring hospital and our team, saved his life,” said Dr. Brown. “We’re grateful to offer these advanced services to the community.”
For nonemergent aortic issues, the center also offers expert evaluation, long-term management and genetic counseling, including aortic valve disease and genetically induced aortic conditions. After North recovered, he underwent genetic testing which determined he did not have any underlying genetic conditions that caused the dissection.
Now, he’s back to yardwork, switching out his push mower for a riding model. He still works out, but doesn’t lift more than 50 pounds, since he has a weakened aorta wall. Otherwise, his life is back to normal.
“I just have to be careful in what I do because I feel so good and I’ll do too much,” North said recently. “My wife helps with that. She always asks me: ‘What did Dr. Vivacqua say?’”
The Beaumont Aortic Center: 24/7 Access
Contact the Beaumont Aortic Center at 248-551-0366. Choose option 1 for immediate assistance 24/7 for rapid evaluation of patients and transfer requests.
Physicians with stable outpatient referrals should choose option 2 to speak with a staff member during business hours. Calls outside of business hours will be returned within one business day.