The Problem: Aortic Dissection and a Series of Strokes
Looking back, Dallas Hartman knows he’s lucky to be alive. The lawyer and admitted former workaholic was just 55 when he looked death in the face — twice — and survived.
Despite chronic high blood pressure and an aneurysm managed by doctors, Dallas had kept a fast pace building a thriving law firm. Long hours in the courtroom and the office were the norm.
It all caught up with him in June 2012.
The car buff was shopping for a new car when he felt a sudden, searing chest pain that extended to his back. The New Wilmington resident called his doctor, who told him to get to the hospital right away.
The Path to UPMC’s Heart and Vascular Institute
At UPMC Jameson’s emergency room, a fast-acting doctor ordered an urgent CT scan.
The image showed that Dallas’ aorta — the main artery that supplies blood from the heart to the body — was tearing apart. This is an often-fatal condition known as an aortic dissection.
Minutes later, Dallas was on his way by chopper to UPMC Shadyside in Pittsburgh for high-level care.
Upon arrival, Dallas moved into the operating room, where he received care from a UPMC Heart and Vascular institute cardiothoracic surgery team that spent hours repairing his aorta.
"My chances of survival were slim, but the team of specialists at UPMC never quit. For hours, they focused all their attention on keeping me alive," says Dallas.
The Solution: Repair of the Dissected Aorta
An aortic dissection mainly affects men who are middle age and older with a history of high blood pressure. It is a life-threatening condition in which a tear develops in the inner layer of the aorta. Blood surging through the tear causes the inner and middle layers of the aorta to split or dissect.
Dallas had the most dangerous form — a type A dissection. The tear was in the ascending aorta, which is the section of aorta closest to the heart through which blood exits the heart and goes to the rest of the body.
During surgery, his aortic valve was repaired and the ascending aorta was replaced with a synthetic graft. Dallas was on a heart and lung machine throughout the long, intricate procedure.
Back to UPMC After a Stroke
Stroke is one of the major risks of aortic surgery.
Discharged a week after surgery, Dallas was healing quickly at home, walking up to a mile a day. But three weeks later, he had a mini-stroke that doctors treated with blood thinners. Then, just 10 days later, he had a major stroke.
“I was on the porch when I bent over to tie my shoes and sneezed,” says Dallas. “It hurt. I grabbed my chest and toppled over.”
Kristina rushed Dallas to UPMC Jameson’s ER. After consulting with neurologists at UPMC Presbyterian via telemedicine, Dallas was life flighted to Pittsburgh.
A CT scan showed a blockage in the carotid artery had stopped blood flowing to his brain on one side.
“The pressure caused the artery to worsen beyond the original site,” says Kristina. “The right side of his brain wasn’t getting any blood.”
The neurologists who treated Dallas were doubtful he would survive. But UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute cardiothoracic experts advised that despite how severe and complex the problem, Dallas’ best chance to live was surgery. The carotid artery needed to be replaced, requiring additional aortic replacement as well.
"We knew he was in good hands," says Kristina
The Solution: Double Bypass to the Brain
For three hours, Dallas underwent a delicate double bypass from the aortic arch to the carotid and subclavian arteries. The bypass restored blood flow to his head, neck, arm, and brain.
It took another hour to carefully inspect the prior repair.
This time, Dallas spent 28 days in the hospital, including three weeks at UPMC Mercy for intensive neurorehabilitation. He had to relearn certain skills and overcome left side neglect — a lack of awareness of one side of his body.
Although Dallas has greatly improved, he still has some mild lingering left side weakness and struggles with concentrating at a high-level.
The Results: Enjoying Life
Today, Dallas says he feels “better than ever.”
His doctors are keeping an eye on the rest of his aorta beyond the one they replaced.
But Dallas is doing all he can to stay healthy. His blood pressure is now a steady 120/80 instead of 230/100. His blood pressure medicine is down from seven to three pills, and he lost more than 50 pounds.
Dallas still spends a few hours a week at his law firm, but no longer argues cases in court. Instead, he works out five days a week and stays busy on his 140-acre farm in Lawrence County. He and Kristina raise Longhorn and Wagyu cattle there.
“I’m enjoying life. These years have been a gift and I feel grateful,” says Dallas.
“The incredible team at UPMC's Heart and Vascular Institute absolutely saved my life — twice,” adds Dallas. “I got to see my daughter get married and have a baby… watch my youngest son graduate from high school. And I've spent seven more years with my wife. Life is good.”
Dallas' treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.