Stefan had at first refused to seek medical help, but ended up undergoing a 12-hour life-saving operation to repair an Aortic Dissection and was lucky to survive
Stefan 47, originally from Dusseldorf, Germany, but now living in Wrexham, Wales was at home doing some DIY when he first experienced pain.
His breathing became difficult, and he had a burning sensation at the back of his throat but had no idea he was suffering from a rare, life-threatening medical condition.
Like many people Stefan hadn’t heard of aortic dissection. He assumed he was just tired after working all morning and had over done it, so he tried to rest and recover. His wife Sophie repeatedly asked him to go to A&E but Stefan thought the pain would eventually go away.
He kept refusing despite feeling very unwell and breathless until a few days later he woke up in pain with his whole chest hurting. They rang NHS Direct Wales who immediately told them to go to hospital and on arriving he was told his blood oxygen saturation level was life-threatening.
Stefan recalls his experience,
“Before I knew it I was in a treatment room with an oxygen mask on, wondering what would happen to me. Lots of doctors and nurses came to look at me and to do tests. Nobody knew what was wrong with me. When Sophie had to leave and I was moved to an isolation room in the intensive care unit, I started to fear it could be worse than I thought. I always tried to be positive – the nurses were so lovely, but they always said I didn’t know how poorly I really was. It was just so strange. It was only a few days ago I felt fit and healthy planning to do the DIY.
“The last thing I remember was ringing Mum in Germany to tell her I wouldn’t be able to contact her for a little while, and Sophie and kids waving goodbye to me as I left for surgery. Then the lights went out.”
Five days after suffering the initial pain, Stefan was diagnosed with a type A aortic dissection and was moved to Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital for urgent surgery. He has his type A aortic dissection repaired and his aortic valve replaced.
“When I woke, all I could see was that I was in bed attached to machines. It took me four days to regain any more awareness and my voice. I remember Sophie saying she would visit again on Thursday with my children and mum. Time stood still so I just focused on surviving and improving my voice. I would just catch myself whispering their names again and again … Sophie, Catherine, Jessica, Mutti...I didn’t want to forget they were coming.”
A month later Stefan was discharged from hospital and started to recover at home. He had a difficult recovery, collapsing and fainting twice and also developing a blood clot on the lung. He did make it home for Christmas which was more special than ever to be surrounded by loved ones.
Amazingly, just 11 months after he first fell ill, Stefan spoke at the same hospital he was treated at, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital as part of Aortic Dissection Awareness Day organised by our charity Aortic Dissection Awareness UK (ADAD UK). A real testament to how patients can recover and give hope to others.
Many individual patient stories, together, make up the story of our Aortic Dissection patient charity. You can read some of them here. New stories...Read more
Anne Cotton is a retired Primary School Teacher from Warwick who had her entire Aorta replaced in three stages, after suffering an acute Type A...Read more