Amy Yasbek, actress and widow of actor John Ritter, shares her family’s heartbreak surrounding her husband's sudden and tragic death from a dissected aorta.
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Explaining an Aortic Dissection Dr. Travis: Please welcome John’s widow actress Amy Yasbek. Welcome Amy. Amy: Thank you. Dr. Travis: So I'm assuming that you probably have never heard of thoracic aortic disease like most of you out in there in the audience. No one has a clue. Amy: I had never heard of it until John died from it. He was being treated for a heart attack the whole time he was in the hospital. So it kind of wasn’t on the radar of the doctors that night. I have never heard of it. And obviously John never got a chance to learn about it. And our family has learned about it the hard way. Dr. Travis: The aorta is the major artery of the body supplying blood to every single organ, the brain, your kidneys and your everything. So what happens in a dissection is there's actually a tear that occurs between the layers of the wall of the aorta. And that blood literally dissects between those layers that blood travels in between the wall and it cause not only an obstruction, but eventually it can burst. And here’s what's really sad about this, 80% mortality with an aortic dissection and -- because it happens so suddenly because sometimes there's no warning signs. A lot of times people if they come to the ER, it maybe a ripping, tearing sensation in the chest that radiates towards your back. And we actually have Doctor Diana Miller with us of the University Of Texas Medical School at Houston, a leading specialist in aortic dissection as well as aneurisms. Welcome to the show. Dr. Diana: Yes, thank you. Dr. Travis: And this is something that’s really important. When it comes to warning signs, you may not have much time. Dr. Diana: Not much time with the acute dissections, but there are warning signs that you're at risk for an acute dissection. And the probably the major warning sign is enlargement of that very first part of the aorta. The aorta gets larger. It dilates and forms what's called an aneurism. But unfortunately, that aneurism formation tends to be asymptomatic. People don’t feel the aorta getting bigger. And so you really need to go imaging to pick up that enlargement and that’s where it comes in a discussion of who’s at risk for aortic dissections. Dr. Travis: And that’s what we want to focus on today. We want to focus on who is at risk because that’s some of the work that you're doing right now, so genetic predisposition for this disease. Dr. Diana: Genetic predisposition for this disease is strong, 20% of patients with an acute dissection will have a family member that had the same problem. Dr. Drew: You know that brings up an interesting point, John’s father Tex, whether they thought he died of a heart attack, correct? Amy: Right. The way that made that all of a sudden kind of a suspicious that it might be Diana’s suggestion and all of our urging, John’s brother Tom got scanned with a CAT scan. And they found an aortic aneurism in the exact same place as John. He’s ascending and it was huge and he was operated. Doctor Greg Miller at Stanford, it was like a 12 hours surgery or something where they replaced it. Dr. Jim: That’s a big surgery. Amy: A big surgery, but they replaced his aortic arch. Dr. Drew Now with retrospect maybe in Tex’s case, it was also the same thing. Dr. Lisa: I'm still inspired by you. You’ve actually -- yeah but I mean you’re here today talking with us about tragic event in your life and everybody is learning from it at home. But you’ve actually got together with Doctor Miller in that project called Ritter Rules, right? Amy: Right. We've been working together. I have the John Ritter Foundation for aortic health, but then there's also National Marfan Foundation, Ehlers-Danlos, Loeys-Diets and bicuspid valve conditions, syndrome. And those are all predispose to this, we’ve got together and made the thoracic aortic disease coalition, tadcoalition.org. There are aortic guidelines now. There were never guidelines before. So now and it’s like a phonebook and you guys would understand it, but I woul