Published on December 11, 2017

Christmas extra special for Essentia Health patient

Duluthian Mike Sylvester, 47, will celebrate Christmas big time this year with his wife, Amy.  You see, last year they didn't celebrate the holiday or New Year's because Mike almost died.

On Dec. 16, 2016, Mike came to the emergency room at Essentia-Health St. Mary's Medical Center after feeling slight chest pain that he thought was indigestion. Doctors quickly assessed him and found out it was not indigestion.  Mike was having a heart attack.
The St. Mary's-Heart & Vascular team took Mike to the cardiac catheterization lab for a procedure that would place a stent into his heart to clear his blockage.  Cardiologist Dr. Joseph Doerer saw that Mike was sweating and nauseated.  Suspicious of the symptoms, he ordered a CT scan and discovered a much more concerning problem.  Mike was suffering from an aortic dissection, which is a tear in a weakened part of the largest valve in the heart.  Blood was leaking into his chest cavity. He was immediately brought to an operating room for what would be a 10-hour open-heart surgery to repair the damaged aorta.

The next 2 ½ weeks were a blur for Mike.  He finally woke up Jan.2.  He had missed the holidays, but he was alive.  When he did wake up Amy had not left his side. "When I saw her, I knew I was safe," Mike says.

Following the surgery, Mike suffered complications that forced him to stay at St. Mary's, then at Essentia Health-Duluth for inpatient rehabilitation.  When he was released January 12, he then became an outpatient at Essentia learning about cardiac rehabilitation. Every day he was getting stronger. His rehab team helped educate him about nutrition and taught him the best way to work out on exercise equipment.

After four weeks of cardiac rehab, he was ready to go back to work half time at the U.S. Post Office and his downtown Duluth mail route.

His traumatic experience has been a valuable one. "You really appreciate things more," he says.  Mike and Amy have travelled to the Twins spring training camp, attended the musical Aladdin and even bought a new boat. They both work out and embrace the healthy changes.

Aortic dissections are rare and can be genetic or can be caused by high blood pressure. Since Mike was adopted, he didn't know his family health history. Now, he's considering getting a genetic test to determine if the condition is hereditary. If it is, he would consider trying to find his birth family.

You find that inner strength," he says. "And you deal with the cards that you were dealt."

Mike continues cardiac rehabilitation once every two months. "It's like a check-up of sorts," he says.  "The other day after running for 20 minutes on the treadmill, my blood pressure was 130/80. The first day in the hospital it was 180/100."

Mike was in this year's Christmas City of the North Parade and he is active on Facebook with a group for survivors of aortic dissection. He has no long-term health issues and plans to run the William A. Irvin 5K in April.

My life is better than ever. I feel just awesome. I am very thankful for the care I have received."