There are about 2,000 cases of aortic dissection in the United States each year. With timely treatment the survival rate is approximately 85%. Without treatment 25% of patients die in the first 24 hours, 50% die within the first week, 75% the first month and a whopping 90% the first year.
Along with Daniel Evans we represent the family of a patient who died in a community hospital after waiting almost 11 hours to be seen by a doctor capable of treating a dissecting aorta. In this medical malpractice wrongful death case no doctor laid eyes on our client the last seven hours of his life. Even after an unequivocal diagnosis by CAT scan six hours before his death he was neither seen by a physician nor transferred to a better staffed facility. This tragedy could have been prevented by timely transporting the patient to a trauma center. If the family had known his condition they would have insisted upon transport.
Here is why timely treatment is important. The aorta has 3 tissue layers. The most frequent type of dissecting aorta is one in which the inner layer which is in direct contact with the blood develops a defect which allows blood to pass between the inner lining of the aorta and other layers. Blood in the aorta is under pressure and a breach in the inner layer creates a second channel within the aorta. That channel expands because of the force of the blood being pumped by the heart. As the channel expands the possibility of various lethal conditions developing increases. As mentioned above, the risk of death in an untreated aortic dissection is very high especially in the first 24 hours.
When someone experiences sudden severe chest pain emergency transport to the nearest trauma center provides the best chance of survival. Wherever you go it is critical that you be seen by a competent doctor who can promptly distinguish between heart attack and dissecting aorta. The difference is important because blood thinners, like heparin, are appropriate for a heart attack but can make a dissecting aorta worse. If a love one is in this situation be an advocate for that person. Determine what the diagnosis is, what experience the hospital and doctor have in treating that condition and what transport options are available. Your love one’s life may depend upon these answers.
Cumberland School of Law, Cum Laude graduate Peter F. Burns practice areas include business litigation will contests, medical malpractice, legal malpractice, and other matters of complex civil litigation. Mr. Burns is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court and is a Certified Alabama Mediator; Board-Certified Civil Trial Advocate, National Board of Trial Advocacy, and a member of national and state Legal associations.