It only took a minute for Chuck McMullens’ pain to go from annoying to catastrophic.
The Newark resident was sitting July 6 on his front porch, when he felt a pain in his lower abdomen, “like maybe I had to use the restroom,” he said.
When he stood up to go inside, though, he collapsed. He had lost feeling in his legs and the pain intensified.
“It felt like an octopus was grabbing and squeezing my stomach,” he said.
On the verge of passing out, McMullens managed to dial 911. He could hear the squad coming up his driveway as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
McMullens had suffered an aortic dissection, or an internal shearing of the large artery that carries blood from the heart. It was the result of an aneurysm, or a bulging of the aorta that gradually weakens the artery walls.
He was taken to Licking Memorial Hospital in Newark, then taken by LifeFlight to the Ross Heart Hospital at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, where he underwent a lifesaving 5 ½-hour surgery.
“Most people who have an aortic dissection die before they get to a hospital,” said Dr. Jovan Bozinovski, a cardiac surgeon at the Wexner Center and associate director of its Aortic Center.
McMullens said he was blindsided by the incident. The 57-year-old is a workout fanatic and in good health, he said.
“I didn’t think anything like that would ever happen,” he said. “That’s the scary part.”
And that is the reason why the state of Ohio is recognizing its first Aortic Aneurysm Awareness Day Saturday — to let people know that while there are no symptoms before an aneurysm ruptures or dissects, there are steps they can take that may catch it before it gets to that point.
Bozinovski said some aneurysms can be hereditary.
“If you look back and say, `Oh yeah, Uncle Jim passed away all the sudden, and yeah, his sister did, too, then that history of sudden death might be an indication of aortic disease in your family,” he said.
Smokers and those with uncontrolled high blood pressure also could be at risk, he said.
A number of screenings and scans are available that could uncover an aneurysm before it turns deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018 nearly 10,000 people in the United States died from aortic aneurysms.
State Rep. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, sponsored legislation to create Aortic Aneurysm Awareness Day, and Gov. Mike DeWine signed it into law last October,
Manning wanted Feb. 13 designated because that was the day her husband, Jeff Manning, 54, died of an aneurysm in 2004.
Like McMullens, Ken Bish is fortunate to still be alive. The 78-year-old resident of Beavercreek, near Dayton, felt strong chest pains Sept. 4 and he, too, ended up being flown to the Ross Heart Hospital.
Unlike McMullens, though, Bish was able to have a less-invasive procedure. Surgeons made an incision in his groin and inserted a stent to repair the dissected artery.
After a few days in the hospital, he went back to Beavercreek and was soon able to resume his normal activity, particularly his beloved volunteering at a local park.
“It appears I have had a very successful recovery,” said Bish.
McMullens’ recovery has taken longer. The blood from the dissection temporarily blocked some nerves to his legs, which caused the paralysis.
He has slowly regained movement and strength, though, and continues to work hard in his physical therapy regimen.
“I’m just so blessed to be here,” he said. “I look at life totally different. It makes me smile every day now.”