Saturday, September 6, 2014

Scott Nichols - Bicuspid Aortic Valve and Dissection

Scott Nichols with his son, Carson, on the golf course
Words do not come easily when trying to capture the essence of Scott Nichols. In the prime of his life at age 41, he was a husband to his wife Jennifer, father to his daughter and young sons, friend to many, a special education teacher, and a coach.

Scott coached a high school hockey team as well as being the goalie coach for the NAHL Port Huron Fighting Falcons. He had a lifelong love of sports and continued to play many himself - hockey three times a week, softball, and golf.

Yes, Scott was a very special man, known to so many in his community and state.

There was something else special about Scott. Something that no one, not even Scott himself, knew. He had been born with a bicuspid aortic valve.

A Snow Day in Michigan and Chest Pain
Even in Michigan, where those who live there are prepared for winter, some days the weather is just too severe, and schools are closed. These "snow days" are unexpected free time for students and teachers alike. On a snow day in late January, 2014, Scott Nichols made the most of this unexpected gift of time, packing it with activity. He played basketball with some of the other teachers, and then went on to coach two different hockey teams. Later that evening, he was out on the ice playing hockey himself when he felt the chest pain. 

No Prior Warning
There was no warning that this strong, active man had anything wrong until chest pain forced him off the ice and to the local emergency room. There his heart was checked, and a heart attack was ruled out. The next day his bicuspid aortic valve (BAV) was found. He continued to get worse. What was happening inside Scott? More testing found it. Like many with BAV, Scott's aorta above his BAV had been bulging dangerously (aneurysm). The weak, bulging tissue had torn (dissection). Scott was bleeding inside.

Life Flight to University of Michigan
Scott needed to reach a medical center equipped to perform emergency surgery on his aorta. He was flown to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. There, as his family waited, surgeons battled for 14 hours to save him, repairing the terrible injury inside him. But the damage was too great. It had been too long without blood flow to vital places inside him. On January 31st, Scott Nichols was declared brain dead.

Disbelief, Shock, Mourning
Scott (in blue) at the golf course with friends

Scott's family, students, fellow teachers, and friends all descended into shock and deep mourning. This article from the The Voice, February 3, 2014, Scott Nichols Impact Felt, describes the anguish and tremendous sense of loss. As mentioned in the article, with hearts broken the Port Huron Hockey team decided they would play their game the next day in his honor. In the words of Coach Pionk, " ... people like Scott Nichols don't come around very often."

September is Chest Aneurysm and Dissection Awareness Month
The Bicuspid Aortic Foundation observes Chest Aneurysm and Dissection Awareness Month in September.  This same month is observed for brain aneurysms, which also occur in some individuals with BAV. This year, we are deeply grateful to Jennifer Nichols for bravely sharing what happened to her husband just a few brief months ago. She does so in the hope that it may save the lives of others. BAV is estimated to exist in 1 of every 50 people, predominantly in males. 

How many other athletic men in their prime
 are at risk from a bulging, weak aorta?

We do not know. 
We do know that finding a BAV is a red flag 
  • to look further 
  • to find the hidden danger 
  • and to have surgery before a life-threatening emergency.

We hope that through the tragedy of what happened to Scott, the life of someone reading this will be saved. Maybe someone strong and healthy like Scott. Someone who feels great, but gets his heart checked, and finds out he was born with a bicuspid aortic valve. 

In raising awareness
of the risk and the danger,
we  seek to create
a lifesaving
 climate of hope.
From all who volunteer
with the Bicuspid Aortic Foundation.

1 comment:

  1. It's a shame that so many like Scott Nichols and Andrew Kinney have died from this condition. Aortic Dissections are very serious but survivable if detected and treated quickly, Medical procedures must be changed to include routine tests to check for this condition, especially when a patient has had no history of heart trouble. We also need more research into the cause of these dissection to prevent it from happening and to treat those who end up with this condition.