Saturday, March 9, 2013

Richard Houchin - BAV Dissection Survivor

Richard Houchin (right) joins Jan Van Noord 
along the route of the Los Angeles Marathon,  March 6, 2005

March 2005 
At the beginning of 2004 in Los Angeles, Richard Houchin was an active 62 year old, running 5 miles with his jogging partners and regularly working out at the gym. When time allowed, he ran half marathons (13 miles).

February 4, 2004, began as an ordinary day for Richard. Around noon he and his wife, Mary, had lunch in a restaurant with a contractor doing work on their rental property, an industrial building. Mary left them at 1 pm, and the two men walked back to the nearby property. As Richard stood talking with the contractor, he suddenly collapsed. (The contractor's name is Brian Cleary. Read Brian's story on this blog also!)

An ordinary day was now a crisis: the call to 911, paramedics, the emergency room of the local hospital, the message for Mary to rush to Richard's side, testing, then a CT scan and a diagnosis.

No, it was not a heart attack. Richard's ascending aorta had dissected.

Written here in a few brief words are events that took place over several hours. During that time, Richard's aorta was torn inside, holding together by its thin outer layer.

At about 7:30 pm, Richard was transferred to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in critical condition. Dr. Sharo Raissi performed emergency surgery, replacing Richard's entire ascending aorta and repairing his bicuspid aortic valve.  

When paramedics first arrived on the scene, they noticed Richard could not move his left side. During the dissection, Richard had suffered a stroke.  Richard not only had to recover from the surgery to repair his aorta, he also had to overcome the affects of the stroke.Today, no one looking at him would imagine that Richard experienced a life-threatening aortic dissection and stroke just over a year ago. He feels slightly off balance when he stands, and there is some numbness in his left hand and foot.

Richard's positive focus on his recovery
 and the support of his family and friends brought him through the months of healing and rehabilitation with flying colors. Nine months after his dissection, Richard returned to running, beginning with short distances and gradually increasing the length. On the one year anniversary of his dissection, he ran 5 miles with his friend and jogging partner, Jan Van Noord. About a month later, on March 6th, 2005, Richard ran with Jan along part of the route of the LA Marathon.

Richard and Jan following the LA Marathon
In speaking with Richard, if you should ask him if he is having a good day, he will tell you that every day is a good day. Every day is a day he might not have had

Richard and his family hope that sharing their experience will bring greater awareness of the nature of bicuspid aortic valve disease. His bicuspid aortic valve has had essentially normal function throughout his life, both before and after his dissection. What endangered his life that February day in 2004 began with thin weak tissue in his ascending aorta, silently bulging to more than 5 cm in diameter.

Richard's family history holds a clue to his own condition. His father died suddenly at the age of 57, and it is possible that Richard inherited bicuspid aortic valve disease from him.

September 2005

Mary Houchin, Arlys Velebir, Richard Houchin, Jan Van Ord
at Culver City for TAAD Awareness Proclamation
On September 12, 2005, Culver City, California  proclaimed September as Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm and Dissection (TAAD) Awareness Month. This city is where Richard collapsed with his dissection, and it was the Culver City Fire Department paramedics who responded to the 911 call. During the proclamation ceremony, Richard spoke about the crucial role the paramedics played in saving his life. Although advised by a local medical center to treat Richard for a heart attack, they thought there might be an aneurysm in Richard's chest. The approach to heart attack victims is just the opposite of what is desirable for someone like Richard, whose aorta has torn and may be on the verge of rupture. Instead of thinning his blood and raising his blood pressure, they quickly transported him to the local hospital and later moved him to Cedars-Sinai. In expressing his gratitude, Richard said "Your paramedics saved me........I shouldn't be here."

Richard in 2013

Living as a post-dissection survivor, Richard continues to do well today. And he still has his bicuspid aortic valve, which was spared during the operation that saved his life!

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