A Rip in His Chest and Blurred Vision Signals Cardiovascular Emergency for Hairdresser

A Rip in His Chest and Blurred Vision Signals Cardiovascular Emergency for Hairdresser

High blood pressure almost took Raul Rodriguez’s life.

At 55 years old, Raul Rodriguez, a professional hairdresser who lives in Los Angeles County, had to put his life on pause to undergo open-heart surgery to correct a problem with his aorta.

“On the week of Christmas back in 2014, I started to get really tired and I couldn’t understand why I was more exhausted than usual,” recalls Rodriguez.

He had gone on a few trips and thought that was the reason for his exhaustion. But, it was much more severe than mere fatigue — he was experiencing heart complications.

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“Around the end of the year when I was taking a nap, I felt a rip in my chest. I didn’t know exactly what it was. I thought it was just a muscle spasm, so I ignored it,” says Rodriguez.

“On Jan. 3, I went to work, but I wasn’t feeling like myself. In the middle of the afternoon I told my receptionist that I needed to go home. When I came home, I noticed my vision was blurred, my energy level was significantly reduced and I felt a weird chest pain.”

Despite his symptoms Rodriguez went to dinner with his partner, but didn’t say a single word about what he was going through. The next morning he looked to the internet for answers.

“When I Googled my symptoms, I knew that I needed to go to the hospital immediately,” he says.

His brother picked him up and took him to a local hospital in Downey. Tests revealed he had an aortic dissection — a serious condition in which a tear occurs along the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart. Rodriguez was immediately put into the intensive care unit (ICU) and transferred to Keck Medicine of USC.

On January 4, 2015, a team led by Fernando Fleischman, MD of the USC Comprehensive Aortic Center  at Keck Medicine of USC performed open-heart surgery on Rodriguez. Although the surgery was a success, Rodriguez had a stroke eight days following the procedure. His physicians pointed to some of the symptoms he had experienced prior to his hospitalization.

“The doctors informed me that this would probably happen because my vision had gone blurry,” he says. “I had all the symptoms of a stroke, but I wasn’t paying attention to my body.”

After the stroke, Rodriguez remained under the care of the team at Keck Medicine for another week before returning home.

“I felt like I was being treated like a family member. I’ve never experienced so much attention and care as I did in the hospital,” he says. “The whole experience was just amazing. Every time I go back, I thank the people who helped me throughout the process.”

During his recovery, Rodriguez wanted to understand what had caused his aortic dissection. He discovered that the condition was linked to high blood pressure.

“For years, doctors told me to watch my blood pressure, but I was never monitoring it like I do now. I was told to take my medication and watch what I ate. I thought I was eating okay, but I guess I wasn’t,” he says. “So now I watch everything I eat.”

Rodriguez continues to guard his well-being by improving his eating habits. He has also gone back to cutting hair part-time and looks forward to traveling and exploring more of the world.

by Leonard Kim

If you’re in the Los Angeles area and are looking for exceptional care, be sure to schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.