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Howard's aortic dissection patient story

Howard Dyson 64, tells us about a rare incidence of aortic dissection which happened accidentally during routine surgery.

Howard's aortic dissection patient story

‘Following my aortic dissection, I consider myself very lucky, insofar as I have a wonderfully supportive wife and family, and I can still pursue my life’s passion for road cycling in the mountains, albeit these days, on an electric bike.

I consider myself unlucky, insofar as my dissection was ‘iatrogenic’ which means it was “done-to-me” (in my case, by some medical instrumentation during a routine cardiac ablation operation, 2 years ago).

Apparently, I am a curiosity. 

What I think they really mean is that I have a “somewhere-in-the-middle” type of condition.  In medical-Martian, I have a “complex, Iatrogenic, Non-A, Non-B, full-length aortic dissection, with a TEVAR repair and an occluded left-subclavian artery”.  

This means that the damage to my aorta starts somewhere near my neck (top of the aortic arch) and runs all the way down to the middle of my pelvis (internal/external Iliacs), the team at St. George’s did an amazing repair job in Oct 2021 (a TEVAR – thoracic endovascular aortic repair) by placing a massive chest stent via the artery in my leg. It also needed to cover the blood supply to my left arm – so I now have no pulse in that wrist. Catches the GP out all the time! 

As all AD patients know, we never actually recover from a dissection, but we learn to live with the consequences and make the very best of one’s family and life thereafter. 

Through the amazing work of the Aortic Dissection Awareness charity, I quickly came to realise that every AD survivor is totally unique, and each of us is on our own rehabilitation journey, at our own speed. We all carry worries and uncertainties for the future, but also hopes and goals for regaining some of the mobility and capabilities we previously enjoyed. It’s a long, long road, with many forks along the way.

In my case, I used to love riding pushbikes in the European mountain ranges. In 2014, I managed to complete the charity version of the Tour de France (21 days & 2,300 miles). Two years after my dissection, my weapon of choice, my primary rehab tool, is of course an e-road bike. I can’t recommend them highly enough (for anyone brave enough to face the UK potholes!). 6,100 miles, so far this year.

Cardiovascular fitness, and shedding excess pounds (I have a few), is nearly always a beneficial goal. However, one of the essential “self-help” rules for all AD survivors is to assiduously avoid high blood-pressure. For me, this also means controlling my heart rate (to 125 beats per minute, or less) – whilst pushing hard up a mountain. Glad to say the “turbo” button on the e-bike works a treat. This means I can be super-careful about not going “into-the-red”, and always listening to one’s body. 

Back in the day, I spent 12 years in the army, in a unit where “giving-up” was never an option, and “pushing-harder” was the norm. Well, all of that is fine in one’s twenties, but with AD in one’s mid-sixties, that is now tempered with healthy dose of reality. 

I am, of course, eternally gratefully to my ever-supportive wife and family – and the amazing wizards at St. George’s Hospital who put me back together – and continue to keep a watchful eye over my on-going dissected abdominal aortic aneurysms. I may need further stenting in the future, as we try hard to stay on the right-side of the grass, without overdoing my quest to regain fitness. And now, whenever I’m out on two-wheels in the sunshine and the hills – I always remind myself: “Today is, indeed, a Good Day!’