Vim & Vigor - Fall 2017 - University of Virginia - 50

O

n Oct. 5, 2016, Mark Cave,
51, was making repairs
on his rental property in
Charlottesville's Fifeville
neighborhood when he felt a "bolt of
lightning" in his chest. He sat down
on the sidewalk and texted his wife to
say he loved her and that he thought
he was having a heart attack. Then he
called 911.
He heard sirens as soon as he hung
up; the Charlottesville Fire Station was
only a block and a half away. Minutes
later, paramedics were checking Mark's
vitals; he wasn't having a heart attack
but rather an aortic dissection-the
cause of death of well-known actors
Alan Thicke in 2016 and John Ritter
in 2003.
With a tear in the wall of his main
artery, Mark needed emergency surgery.
Less than a mile away at UVA Medical
Center, cardiovascular surgeon John
Kern, MD, and his team repaired Mark's
aorta. When he woke up after a 12-hour
operation, being in the hospital brought
back a flood of memories.

A Parent's Worst
Nightmare

In October two years earlier, Mark
and his wife, Victoria, rushed their
13-year-old son to the UVA Emergency
Department. Sebastian had been having headaches all summer, but that
morning the pain was unbearable and
he couldn't stop vomiting. As a precaution, ER doctors did a brain imaging
scan. "When the doctor came in and
said, 'Can we have a word with you?',
my heart dropped in my stomach,"
Mark recalls. "When I heard the doctor say, 'Sebastian has a brain tumor,'
I thought it was a death sentence."

Reassurance

Sebastian was in a life-threatening situation but was in good hands. "What was
immediately threatening Sebastian's life
was not the tumor; it was a buildup of
brain fluid. Left untreated, the pressure

50

FA L L 2 0 1 7

IS IT REALLY A HEART ATTACK?

It's not surprising that Mark Cave thought he was having a heart attack. An acute aortic
dissection (sudden tear in the wall of the main artery) can mimic a heart attack. The
main symptom is sudden, severe pain in the chest, stomach, back or neck. The pain is
likely to feel sharp, tearing or ripping. Knowing the difference is crucial, as a common
intervention for a heart attack-giving someone an aspirin-can be deadly for someone
having an aortic dissection. Mark is grateful to the Charlottesville paramedic team that
noticed an important clue: Mark had
different blood pressure readings in
WEBSITE
his arms, which likely meant he had a
torn, instead of a blocked, artery.
Less common than a heart attack,
aortic dissection still kills 25,000 people
every year. Many of these deaths could
be prevented, according to the John
The aorta is the main vessel that
Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health.
sends blood away from our heart
The foundation was created after the
to the rest of our body. Shaped
actor's death to spread awareness
like a candy cane, it's about as
about aortic dissection.
wide as a garden hose. A weak
Before a life-threatening dissection
occurs, there is often a widening or
spot (or aneurysm) can lead to
ballooning out of the aorta (aortic
life-threatening tears or ruptures.
aneurysm), which can be surgically
Learn more about UVA Heart and
repaired. After Ritter's death, his famVascular Center's extensive experily members had imaging to determine
tise in treating aortic aneurysms at
if they had an undetected aneurysm.
uvahealth.com/aortic-aneurysm.
John's brother did and had it surgically
repaired to prevent a tear.

Do I Need My Main
Artery Checked?

would have taken his life," explains
John Jane Jr., MD, one of two pediatric
neurosurgeons at UVA.
The Caves knew Jane as the father of
a student at St. Anne's-Belfield School,
where Victoria teaches music and where
Sebastian attends. But now they would
come to know him as a surgeon highly
familiar with Sebastian's type of tumor.
"When Dr. Jane came in, he told us,
'I got this,'" Mark recalls. "As a parent,
you're so vulnerable at that moment. For
someone to come along and say, 'Don't
worry about it. I'm going to take care of
your son. He's going to be fine'-that's
the greatest gift someone can give you."
Six weeks after undergoing brain
surgery, Sebastian was back on his
school's swim team. By spring, he was
running on the track team, and today
he ranks among the state's top runners.
Academically, he's also a top student.

Giving Thanks

As for dad, Mark is 90 percent back to
his old self as he continues to recover
with cardiac rehabilitation. Both father
and son come to UVA for regular
checkups, making sure Mark's aorta is
healthy and Sebastian's tumor doesn't
recur. The family comes back to UVA
for another reason. Every Thanksgiving
weekend, they visit to thank everyone
who treated Sebastian and Mark. "We
find ourselves so grateful for the hospital, surgeons and the incredible team of
caregivers who have literally saved our
family," Victoria says.
Mark adds, "The overarching moral of
this story has to do with the brilliance
of the local paramedics and the doctors
and nurses at UVA. Had it not been for
their incredible training and dedication
to their craft, I wouldn't be here and my
son wouldn't possibly be here today." ■


http://www.uvahealth.com/aortic-aneurysm

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vim & Vigor - Fall 2017 - University of Virginia

Contents
Vim & Vigor - Fall 2017 - University of Virginia - Cover1
Vim & Vigor - Fall 2017 - University of Virginia - Cover2
Vim & Vigor - Fall 2017 - University of Virginia - Contents
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Vim & Vigor - Fall 2017 - University of Virginia - Cover3
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