MANHASSET — A week after a healthy baby girl came into the world, a pregnancy related cardiovascular ailment threatened her mother’s life. Woodbury resident Laura Olevic, 38,has a family history of aortic dissection, which is when the wall of the aorta tears, causing blood to flow between the layers of the wall of the aorta, forcing the layers apart.
Such a tear in the largest artery in the body can be fatal.
“The dissection occurs in three out of every 100,000 people per year,” said Gustave Pogo, MD, the North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) and LIJ Medical Center cardiothoracic surgeon who saved Ms. Olevic’s life.
“In women under age 45, 50 percent of the dissections occur during pregnancy.”
Pregnancy-related hormonal changes and high blood pressure can weaken the aortic wall, increasing the risk of aortic dissection. Throughout her pregnancy, Ms. Olevic received care from an obstetrician, a high-risk obstetrician, and a cardiologist.
When her placenta partially separated on April 29th, she under went a C-section at NSUH, then entered the Coronary Care Unit for blood pressure monitoring. Ms. Olevic went home five days later, but her situation soon took a dangerous turn.
“I was in bed at 5:30 in the morning. I turned and heard this pop or burst from the back of my neck down into my shoulders,” explained Ms. Olevic. “Pain just radiated in my chest, upper back and neck. “
She first thought it was a pulled muscle. Ms. Olevic headed downstairs to alert her husband, who was getting ready for work. By the time she reached him, her left leg was numb.
The Olevics drove to Syosset Hospital, where a computed tomography (CT) scan confirmed an aortic dissection. An ambulance quickly transported Ms. Olevic to NSUH for emergency surgery to repair the tear.
“The dissection began in the ascending aorta near the aortic valve all the way down to the abdominal aorta and had occluded the artery to her left leg,” said Dr. Pogo.
The surgical team placed Ms. Olevic on a heart/lung machine to perform the work of those organs while they stopped her heart. Dr. Pogo spent nearly six hours replacing the torn ascending aorta with a synthetic graft made of Dacron.
Kambhampaty Krishnasastry, MD, chief of vascular surgery at NSUH, performed bypass surgery to restore the blood flow to Ms. Olevic’s leg. The graft should last a lifetime, with follow-up CT scans to ensure an aortic aneurysm doesn’t form.
When she returned home, Ms. Olevic had to forgo breastfeeding because she needs two blood pressure medications.
“I’ve been told I’m doing an amazing job recovering and doing more than what they expected me to be doing,” said Ms. Olevic, who also has a 5-year-old son.
Reflecting on her second chance, Ms. Olevic is considering ways to raise awareness about pregnancy-related heart issues. “I want to do something good with what’s happened to me,” she said.