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One Life, One Heart, One Hospital

A patient with no risk factors to a life-threatening heart condition has her life saved.

Linda CohenWhen Linda Cohen woke up on March 17, she never thought she’d be spending the rest of her day in her nightgown. That Saturday morning, she was going about her day as usual, relaxing and reading. Her husband, Norman, a semi-retired accountant, was at work as it was high tax season. Then out of nowhere, she felt tremendous pain across her entire chest. She knew something was seriously wrong, so she called Norman to tell him and he told her to call 9-1-1. She did and within minutes, the ambulance arrived at her door.

“I put a robe on over my nightgown and went downstairs to open the door. I thought why would I get dressed if I’m going to the hospital? They’ll only undress me,” Linda says, chuckling. And she was right.

She was taken to Abington Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Trauma Center where the staff performed a series of tests to determine exactly what was wrong. In the meantime, the pain started to radiate to her back but soon after, it mysteriously (to her anyway) subsided.

Unfortunate News

A CT scan was ordered for Linda. Her last memory was getting the CT scan and hearing two technicians talking afterward. “I heard one person say, ‘This doesn’t look good.’ And then the other person said, ‘I agree, it doesn’t,’” remembers Linda, who is 74.

As soon as the official test results were available, a physician ran into Linda’s room. “I remember her saying, ‘We have a life-threatening situation here!’ …Everybody started running into the room, like you see on television,” says Marsha Cohen, daughter of Linda.

Then the surgeon explained that Linda’s aorta had ripped (dissected) and that if they didn’t get her into surgery, she would not live past bedtime. Even if she had surgery, there was no guarantee of her coming out of the surgery alive. Linda, who had no risk factors for ascending aortic dissection, experienced a tear from the top of her neck all the way down to her heart.

“It was very dire,” says Marsha, who adds that she, her brother and father even said their heart-wrenching goodbyes to her.

At that point, Linda’s intense chest pain returned and didn’t subside until she received the anesthesia for the surgery. Once the surgery ended, she had to be put in a drug-induced coma to help her body heal.

“It was a very extensive repair,” says Marsha. “And when they went to start her heart [after surgery and in the coma], they couldn’t, so she also needed a single bypass to help.”

Watchful Waiting

The next 12 hours were crucial. If Linda survived the next 12 hours, her chances of surviving the whole incident were still only around 75 percent. The family stayed by her side every minute.

“Even with surgery, up to 10 percent to 15 percent of patients will not survive or suffer a major complication like a stroke or heart attack,” explains Rohinton Morris, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Abington, who performed the eight-hour operation. “The longer the time the symptoms are experienced, the lower the chance of survival.”

The good news is she made it through it all. “The big thing is that [Linda] sought medical help immediately and didn’t wait for it to go away,” says Dr. Morris.

Two days after the surgery, Linda woke up from her coma and was discharged from the hospital four days later. Now, she’s back to her own “normal,” spending time with her family including her beloved five grandchildren, her friends and traveling to New York, Florida and Europe.

When looking back at the experience, Linda credits the top-notch care and attention she received for saving her life, adding how heartening it was that everyone was so kind to her. Still, it’s hard for her to even believe it happened. “I am glad I was able to get through it. I guess I learned that I could do it,” concludes Linda. “… And I’m not ready to die.”

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