Keith: “I was meant to live.”
For over 57 years, Keith has managed major construction projects for a living, turning new schools and office buildings from blueprints and plans into reality.
But he hadn’t planned on this. While visiting a potential job site last fall, his legs suddenly gave out. “It was the strangest feeling I ever had,” he says now.
Knowing something was wrong, but experiencing no pain, he drove himself 50 miles to a hospital in Saginaw. Doctors spent several hours trying to determine what was happening.
As soon as they spotted it, they told him he had one choice: A helicopter flight that might — might — get him to U-M just in time to save his life.
After 73 years of withstanding the powerful rush of blood from his heart, the upper part of Keith’s aorta had literally come apart. The layers of tissue that formed the walls of his body’s largest blood vessel had separated. It’s a condition called aortic dissection that strikes 10,000 Americans each year and kills many of them before they reach the hospital or during emergency treatment.
Fortunately for him, Keith was within range of one of the nation’s leading centers for aortic dissection treatment and research: U-M.
As the Survival Flight helicopter approached its landing pad, the surgery team assembled. Eight hours later, they had replaced his torn aorta and the nearby heart valve — while his wife, seven children and their spouses sat vigil in the waiting room. After the operation, it took several hours and a drug derived from salmon sperm to stop his bleeding.
When he woke up in the intensive-care unit, still breathing through a ventilator, Keith saw his lead surgeon standing over him and asking how he was doing. Unable to speak, he gave two thumbs up.
Four weeks later, he was back at work.
Keith had already survived kidney cancer, prostate cancer and back surgery. Now, thanks to dozens of U-M doctors, nurses and other professionals, he had survived one of the deadliest cardiovascular emergencies.
“Everything had to work just right, or I wouldn’t be here,” he says. “I was meant to live.”