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Aortic Dissection Survivor Uses Near-Death Experience to Serve Others

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In 2007, Diane Bishop arrived at her local hospital with an aortic dissection, a tear in the inner layer of the aorta, and a less than 1 percent chance of survival. The small but life-threatening tear was not only a physical wound but an emotional one as well.

Since then, Bishop has undergone two open-heart surgeries at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, with her latest procedure being done by Kyle Eudailey, M.D., at the UAB Medicine Cardiovascular Institute.

“After an aortic dissection, one thing that I noticed is that you deal with more than the physical side of recovery,” Bishop said. “You deal with the mental and emotional side ... the depression, the anger, the exhaustion, the fear. I want others who are in similar situations to know that they are not alone.”

After both of her procedures, Bishop reflected on which resources helped her the most during her long recovery. She began creating care packages with supplies for other patients recovering from aortic dissection. Each care package includes a blood pressure cuff, a notebook and pen for taking notes and recording blood pressure, a planner to help keep up with appointments, a pill organizer, pill cutter, cups, hand sanitizers, and masks. The packages include a list of resources and support groups available for people to connect with other patients affected by aortic disease. Bishop delivers the packages to UAB Hospital and other hospitals in the surrounding areas.  

Bishop, Dr. Eudailey and Abbey Barrow look at all the items in the care packages. Bishop delivering the packages to Kyle Eudailey, M.D., and Abbey Barrow, CRNP.
(Photography: Lexi Coon)

“Patients love the care packages from Ms. Bishop,” said Eudailey, an assistant professor in the UAB Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery. “It means a lot to a patient recovering from aortic surgery to receive something so thoughtful from a fellow aortic patient. It’s so important for aortic patients to understand that they are part of a larger community of patients with shared experiences. That goes a long way to help in the recovery process.” 

Although aortic dissection is relatively uncommon, it is a life-threatening condition that can cause sudden death if it is not recognized and quickly treated. Tears to the aorta are often a result of stress to the aortic wall. Some risk factors of aortic dissection include uncontrollably high blood pressure, blunt trauma to the chest and age. 

About 40 percent of patients die immediately from complete rupture and bleeding out from the aorta. For people who experience aortic dissection, simply surviving the event is a triumph. Fortunately, patients can still live healthy lives through maintaining follow-up appointments, regular CT scans and monitoring their blood pressure. 

“These care packages are important to our patients, because they give them the resources and tools needed to take ownership of their health,” said Abbey Barrow, CRNP, one of Bishop's nurses at UAB Hospital. “In many cases, patients do not have the financial means to obtain a blood pressure cuff, or a vehicle to get to their local pharmacy to check their blood pressure every day. Keeping track of blood pressure can save the lives of many patients living with aortic disease, so being able to give back and donate these items that Ms. Bishop prepares for them means the world to many of our patients.”

Since 2015, Bishop says, she has delivered approximately 480 aortic care packages, with some of these being delivered to areas beyond Alabama including Washington, Maryland and Pennsylvania, to name a few.  

Pile of care packages. Bishop is the founder of Aortic Health Unlimited. Each care package is part of Aortic Health Unlimited’s Heart to Heart Program, which focuses on providing much needed items to patients impacted by aortic dissection.
(Photography: Lexi Coon)

Bishop is an ambassador for Aortic Hope, a nonprofit organization made up of a community of patients, survivors and caregivers living with an aortic disease. She is also the founder of Aortic Health Unlimited, a group that is designed for victims, friends, caretakers and families who have been touched by an aortic dissection. Each of these groups works to spread hope, create awareness, and provide support during the recovery and management of aortic disease.

Each care package is part of Aortic Health Unlimited’s Heart to Heart Program, which focuses on providing much needed items to patients impacted by aortic dissection.

“God has been so good to me and gave me a second chance at life by putting Dr. Eudailey in my path,” Bishop said. “My tragedies have become victories, and I want to share these victories with other survivors. Even if these packages reach only one person, it’s all worth it. One package is one life, and if I can get this messaging in front of just one person, I know it is making a difference.”  

Bishop pays for each of the care packages out of pocket. To find out more information about how to get involved with Aortic Health Unlimited’s Heart to Heart Program and about the resources and care packages available, visit the Aortic Health Unlimited Facebook page.  

Article provided by UAB News.