A close call with his heart helped a 36-year-old man change his life; UK opening cardiovascular unit to help those like him

A lifetime of eating poorly and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day landed one man in the hospital with a heart condition that usually kills half of its victims; but quick thinking, surgery and a complete turn around in his lifestyle will hopefully allow him to reach his goal of walking his daughter down the aisle when she grows up, UKNow reports.

Jarrett Spriggs

Jarrett Spriggs told the University of Kentucky news service that if he skipped breakfast, he typically ate a “fast-food combo meal, plus an extra sandwich and two extra-large sweet teas” for lunch, followed up with only meat and potatoes for dinner and plenty of snacks, often a full-size bag of chips, and sugary drinks in between. Add to that … a pack of cigarettes a day.

“A recipe for disaster,” says the release.

The disaster hit in May when Spriggs, 36, woke up with “terrible chest pains” that “moved from my chest to my left arm,” he said in the release. And despite the immediate 911 call, he and his wife Amy thought this would simply be a case of “expensive heartburn.”

But instead, Spriggs was experiencing a rare type of a “deadly condition” called ascending aortic hematoma, which occurs when a tear develops in the inner wall of the main artery that carries blood from the heart. His specific condition is known as an aortic dissection and it often causes patients to bleed to death before they can reach a hospital, says the release. This is the same condition actor John Ritter died from in 2003.

Spriggs survived a five-and-a-half-hour hour surgery in which a portion of his diseased aorta was replaced with a tube made of cloth.

“Jarrett is a very lucky man, because the mortality rate for an aortic dissection is 50 percent, and the variant Jarrett experienced is pretty rare,” Dr. Hassan Reda, his UK HealthCare cardiothoracic surgeon, said in the release. “He acted quickly to get help, and he got to the right place.”

Post-surgery, Reda told Amy that Spriggs “had the heart tissue of an 80-year-old man and without some drastic changes, he likely would not live to see his 50th birthday.”

This prognosis has led to some drastic changes in Spriggs’ life. He told UKNow that it was a “wakeup call from God.”  He immediately quit smoking; he now uses a diet and exercise phone app; and has involved the entire family in his efforts. He has lost almost 50 pounds in five months and says his motivation is to be alive to walk his daughter, who in now 10, down the aisle.

The UK Chandler Hospital is opening a new 64-bed cardiovascular unit in December to help patients like Spriggs. It not only incorporates many elements that already exist in the hospital, according to the release, but will add new features to improve patient recovery.

One of these new features is a guided walking path within the unit for patients and visitors to use. “Research demonstrates that when patients begin exercising in the hospital they are more likely to continue that activity at home,” says the release.

The unit will also offer a “state-of-the-art interactive TV system in every patients room that will provide patients with information and educational materials about their diagnosis, their care team and their treatment plan.” The information will also be available on patients’ home computers.

“Cardiovascular disease, smoking, obesity and physical inactivity are the modern plagues of our society,” Dr. Alison Bailey, director of preventive and ambulatory cardiology and cardiac rehab at UK’s Gill Heart Institute, said in the release. “The good news is that these are almost always reversible diseases that can be treated, if not cured. The goal of cardiovascular rehabilitation is to help patients shift back into a healthy lifestyle in a safe, fun environment.”

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