“I Survived an Aortic Dissection”
On a spring Wednesday evening, Joey Carpenter had everything a 34-year-old man could ask for – a successful marriage, a second child on the way and a rewarding career as an educator. He decided to spend the evening doing something he loved, turkey hunting.
How It All Began
“My wife went to church; I should have gone with her,” he laughs two years later.
Alone, on a private hunting preserve, and a 10-minute walk from his truck, Carpenter collapsed. “Out of nowhere, it felt like I swallowed a fire iron. It took my breath away.”
“The first thing I thought — I have a wife and a little girl, and my wife is pregnant with a little boy, though I didn’t know it was a little boy at the time. Of course I was scared, but if God had a plan, I was ready. I got real calm.”
As he lapsed in and out of consciousness he made several calls on his cell phone, ultimately dispatching his brother who was familiar with the unmarked hunting area.
The Turning Point
Carpenter had suffered an aortic dissection, the condition that struck actor John Ritter. The inner lining of the aorta peels away, and blood rushes into the false channel created between it and the weaker outer wall. In most cases, an untreated dissection is lethal within 24 hours. Without prompt and accurate imaging, the condition can masquerade as indigestion, a heart attack or even a stroke.
Carpenter’s brother arrived about 45 minutes after Carpenter collapsed. By 8 pm, Carpenter had been seen at Winona’s hospital, where physicians spotted the dissection, and bundled him for helicopter transport to St. Dominic’s, 85 miles south.
“There’s no therapy outside of surgery,” says Dr. Gerhard Mundinger, St. Dominic’s Cardiovascular Surgeon on call that evening. “Patients have to be operated on, quickly. It’s always an emergency situation.”
Dr. Mundinger and the cardiac team performed an emergency Bentall procedure, replacing the torn section of aorta with a Dacron cloth graft and switching out a congenitally damaged valve with a mechanical one.
Recovery and Life After Open Heart Surgery
Carpenter’s regimen of anticoagulants has ended his jogging career, so he has taken up power walking. He can sometimes hear the clicking of his new valve. But neither is the biggest change brought about by the surgery.
“What it really taught me is that I don’t care how much money you have. Now, I’m trying to have so much fun, Godly fun. I’m trying to help people more, just live for God.”
Carpenter recently has taken a position as an assistant principal in Oxford, MS, but plans to maintain his relationship with Dr. Mundinger and other healthcare providers in Jackson.
“We know we have been given this life to take care of and it’s our responsibility to do it,” says Mundinger.