Different perspectives on a life-threatening aortic dissection

Since 2016, Patrick and Theressa Harrigan have built an intentional life in the small Oxford County town of Porter, a place where they could do what they love and feel an authentic connection to the community around them. When Patrick suffered a life-threatening medical emergency last winter, it was this community of people who helped save him, not only in his moment of need, but throughout his long months of recovery. 

Patrick was on a run with his dog, Maisie, when he felt like a mule had kicked him in the chest. He slowed down to a walk and then collapsed onto the snowbank. Two separate strangers passing by noticed Maisie sitting patiently on the road next to a man who looked like he needed help. They called 9-1-1 and a medic from Sacopee Valley Rescue responded a few short minutes later. Recognizing that Patrick’s condition was urgent, he was quickly transported to nearby Bridgton Hospital.

The emergency physician diagnosed a type A aortic dissection, a critical condition that can rapidly become fatal. Patrick desperately needed to get to Maine Medical Center in Portland where specialists could repair the massive tear in his aorta. The trip would take more than an hour by ground ambulance, but LifeFlight could do it in just 16 minutes.

When the flight crew arrived, they found Patrick with extremely low blood pressure and acting confused. The gave him medications to increase his blood pressure and placed a breathing tube to make sure his brain was receiving enough oxygen. They also inserted an arterial catheter into his arm so they could access extremely accurate blood pressure values which they could use to fine tune his treatment in flight. Then they loaded him on the helicopter for the quick trip to Portland. After nearly 10 hours of surgery, it became a waiting game to see if the bleeding would stop.

As is often the case with critical patients, Patrick doesn’t remember much of his experience. Mostly he feels fortunate and grateful. Theressa, on the other hand, recalls not only the details of the day and the weeks that followed, but also the fear and stress she felt. She recalls, “I discovered I’m all fight and no flight.” She also feels lucky to live in a community that showed such support during the ordeal. She talks about three young girls who walked Maisie home after Patrick was taken away in an ambulance. She remembers a neighbor who is also an EMT. He was off-duty at the time of Patrick’s call, but could tell how serious it was from what he heard on the radio traffic. He worked with Theressa’s colleagues to make sure she had a quick but safe ride to meet Patrick at the hospital. And then there were all the people who took care of the details of everyday life – picking up supplies, feeding the dog and cats.

Today, Patrick has fully recovered and is back to work as a real estate agent. He’s also an active board member for the Sacopee Valley Rescue service. He can no longer participate in high-impact sports, which includes running, but he’s looking forward to discovering new activities to enjoy. Patrick has sought out and thanked each person who was involved in his care, and he thinks fondly of the flight crew. “I know they do this stuff every day, but they were dropped into my life on my worst day and I will never forget them.”

CommSpec Terri Smith
Pilot Karl Hatlemark
Medic Billy Stuart
Nurse Patrick Perrault