An aortic dissection almost took a father away from his young kids. One afternoon, as Jeff Albert was driving home on the highway, a severe pain shocked his chest and wouldn’t subside.
“I became dizzy right away,” he explained. His symptoms mirrored those of a heart attack. “I felt something was wrong, and I pulled off the highway for some help.”
It was May 5 when this father of two almost lost his life to the sudden health emergency.
Jeff drove to the nearest exit, stopped his car at a nearby bank and stumbled out of the vehicle to ask a bystander for help.
“After the EMTs arrived, the next thing I knew I was being put into an ambulance,” he said.
Paramedics transported him to Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington.
“I remember being in a room and there were a lot of people around me,” he said. “I woke up a day and a half later in the intensive care unit, wondering what the heck happened.”
Jeff had suffered an aortic dissection.
“They told my family I had a 20 percent chance of making it,” he said. “I was lucky,” adding that the tear was able to be repaired.
Aortic dissection is a relatively uncommon but serious condition that is sometimes misdiagnosed as a heart attack because the symptoms are similar. A tell-tale symptom of aortic dissection, and one differentiating the condition from those of a heart attack, is low blood pressure due to the amount of blood loss.
In an aortic dissection, the inner layer of the aorta, a large blood vessel stemming from the heart, tears open allowing blood to escape. Blood causes the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate, or dissect. Depending on the size of the tear and how quickly the condition is diagnoses and treated, it is often fatal.
The condition most often occurs in men in their 60s and 70s, but it can happen to anyone at any age. Jeff was one of the anomalies – only 47 and in excellent shape.
Actor John Ritter also suffered an aortic dissection days after turning 55. His condition was initially misdiagnosed, and he died while at the hospital. His death brought awareness to the signs and symptoms of aortic dissection.
Jeff was fortunate enough to return last month to the hospital where he was treated. He shook hands and hugged his doctors and nurses. Jeff recalled that some people have asked if he was scared when the emergency was happening.
“Once I got into this hospital, I could tell I was safe,” he said.
The doctors, nurses and staff were empathetic and excellent at what they do.
“I was well cared for here,” he said. “I can’t thank everyone enough; they were wonderful in helping me get through this.”