40% of people who have an ascending aortic dissection do not make it to the hospital. Only one in three who make it to the hospital survive.
UPDATE: Steve completed a triathlon in 2016. Read about his inspiring triumph. >>
See a video about Steve’s Story: Steve Gerbson Video
In 2013, Steve Gerbson – a live television producer from Los Angeles – and his wife Olivia were shopping in Santa Fe when he experienced an “event.” It was an ascending aortic dissection – a relatively rare occurrence during which the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart, tears.
When that happens, blood surges through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate (dissect). If the aortic wall ruptures, it can be fatal.
Steve told us, “It felt like a ping-pong ball exploding in my chest. The pain quickly became excruciating. Olivia asked if she should drive to an emergency room and I said, ‘No, call 911.’”
Steve recalls that EMS arrived within minutes and that they asked if they could cut his shirt off. He said, “Cut off anything you want – please just stop the pain.” And then he passed out.
That was on a Monday – he awoke again on Thursday. He had been airlifted to the Heart Hospital in Albuquerque where he had undergone a nine-hour surgery performed by Dr. Brian Castlemain of the New Mexico Heart Institute.
Steve has always been active, and has always exercised regularly. But it was sobering for him to realize that 40% of people who have ascending aortic dissections do not make it to the hospital. Only one in three who do make it to the hospital survive.
After the operation to repair his ascending aortic dissection, Steve spent three weeks in the hospital and then had to undergo dialysis because of kidney issues.
When he returned to L.A., he became depressed, lethargic and spent a lot of time in bed – highly unusual for him – and also experienced physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath. Because of the Christmas & New Year’s holiday, he was delayed in following up with his L.A. cardiologist.
Steve had to go back to the hospital for observation, when it was discovered that he had an imbalance of fluids due to the dialysis. After recovering from his second hospitalization, he began exercising slowly and regaining his strength.
Dr. Castlemain, and everyone at New Mexico
Heart Institute, was amazing.
Then, in 2014, Steve learned that his abdominal aortic aneurysm, a condition that had been previously diagnosed, needed to be repaired. The original plan with Steve’s L.A. doctors was another long and arduous surgery, as well as another long rehab process after the surgery.
But on a follow up visit to Dr. Castlemain, he was asked to stay in Albuquerque overnight so that he could meet with Dr. Steve Henao the next morning. When they met, Dr. Henao suggested using stents instead of surgery.
He told Steve, “My manufacturer will build three custom stents for you.” Steve asked how long he’d be in the hospital. Dr. Henao said, “Twenty-four hours and you’ll be back in the pool in a week.”
My L.A. doctors said, ‘You don’t want to do this.’ I asked why, and they said, ‘It’s cutting-edge technology.’ I thought about that and realized my entire career was based on cutting-edge technology. So I decided to go for it.
Steve returned to L.A., thought over his options, and discussed them with his wife and his L.A. doctors who said, “You don’t want to do this.” When Steve asked why, they said “It’s cutting edge technology.”
“I thought about that,” Steve told us, “and realized my entire career was based on cutting edge technology. So I decided to go for it.”
Not long after Dr. Henao had placed the stents, Steve started to feel good enough to go back to doing triathlons – with full approval of Dr. Castlemain and Dr. Henao. “I started training in July (2015). The race is in Hawaii, April 10th, 2016, and it’s called The Lava Man. I’ll be wearing the NMHI logo.”