Heartbreak: Mom’s tragic death leads to change – aortic dissection is missed

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New Zeland

The tragic death of a mother ignited change to save others from aortic dissections. Photo / File

A woman in her 40s has died after being taken to the emergency room with severe chest pain, and the investigation into her care aims to save others from similar heartbreak.

He died of aortic dissection – a life-threatening condition caused by a tear in the lining of the aorta, the largest vessel that carries oxygenated blood from your heart to the rest of your body.

Earlier this year, former Black Cap wonder Chris Cairns was paralyzed after a potentially fatal condition.

Chris Cairns on 14 February 2006 - the day he announced he would be retiring from international cricket.  Photograph / Greg Bowker
Chris Cairns on 14 February 2006 – the day he announced he would be retiring from international cricket. Photograph / Greg Bowker

After the woman’s death, her family filed a complaint with the health watchdog known as New Zealand’s Health and Disability Commission (HDC) because they believed the tragedy could have been averted. The agency agreed to the research.

An HDC report released today found no violations of consumer rights, but outlined recommendations to prevent a repeat of the tragedy. This included the use of death as an educational tool for doctors and better development of diagnostic tests.

The report also included one of the doctors apologizing to the woman’s family: “My condolences to the woman. [Ms A’s] For their very sad loss to his family, especially his daughters.

“I am deeply grateful for the comprehensive review of this case and reflect on the feedback provided. I am sincerely sorry for the outcome. When I heard the news [Ms A’s] death, I’m down.”

The names of the woman, her family, doctors and the District Health Board are not included in the report due to privacy reasons.

Health and Disability Commissioner Morag McDowell said in the report that the appropriate standard of care is provided by DHB and the condition is difficult to take without “failure-proof diagnostic tools”.

“As a healthcare provider, DHB
Code. In this case, no broader system issues were identified in DHB,” said McDowell.

He said: “I hope the recommendations made will help minimize such consequences for other patients and their whānau.”

Half of the people who develop the condition die before they get to the hospital. 50 percent of those who reach the hospital do not survive.

Last month, the Herald reported on the world’s first study aimed at saving the lives of dozens of people who die from aortic dissection each year.

A Waikato heart surgeon, survivor of an aortic dissection, and a research facilitator from the University of Auckland joined forces to investigate hypertension (high blood pressure) in patients and how to best manage it. High blood pressure is seen as a common trigger for aortic dissection.

They also plan to establish an aortic dissection registry to help better understand the prevalence of the condition in New Zealand.

READ MORE: World-first research on aortic dissections hopes to answer more heart patients

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